By C. Leuch <email@example.com>
Submitted: August 2002
Summary: When you're 15 years old, sometimes it seems like the whole world is against you. Laura Kent, mild-mannered high school student-to-be, knows that all too well, especially after learning about her family heritage. But she is about to discover that some of the toughest challenges can lead to the biggest successes.
This is the fifth story in my next gen series profiling the coming of age of Lois and Clark's children. It's not absolutely necessary to have read the rest of the series to understand this, but they contain some back-story that I will be referring to here. Thanks go out to my beta readers, Missy and Anita, who've been great helps. Hope you enjoy the story, and feel free to send feedback!
Warning: there is a minor WHAM in this story
A note of the time frame: this takes place in the summer after Dawn of Discovery, before Summer Vacation. So, as much as I love them, there won't be any Jenny or Susan or Diane. But that doesn't mean that they won't be back in some later story, we'll see.
Standard disclaimer: the characters of Lois, Clark, and Superman are not mine, but those of their children are. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story is part of the author’s “Dawn of Discovery” series, which includes “The Dawn of Discovery,” “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” “Professional Loyalties,” “Personal Loyalties,” “It Runs in the Family,” “I'll Be You For Christmas,” “Meet Sam Wayne,” and “Gotham Nights.”
As the world began to come into focus, the greens and blues and browns that had blurred in her vision began to materialize, and she realized that she was standing in the middle of a forest. Lush trees towered above her, filtering out the light and obscuring the crystal blue of the cloudless sky above. On the ground, a fallen tree trunk ran parallel to the dusty path that she found herself on, and varying layers of green underbrush stretched off as far as the eye could see in either direction. The only sound that could be detected was the rustle of the leaves in the wind, and the quiet beating of her heart in her chest. She didn't know how it was that she had ended up in the middle of a forest, far removed from civilization, but she figured that it would probably be wise to start heading back to wherever it was she came from.
The path was really no more than a narrow, dirt trail, winding into the forest both behind her and in front of her. No footsteps marked where she had been, and nothing gave her any clue as to where she should go. Even the rays of the sun, slanting down through the leafy canopy above, gave her no sense of direction. She couldn't tell if it were morning or afternoon, summer or early autumn. When it came down to it, she was on her own, and had a fifty/fifty shot of choosing the correct direction. Taking a deep breath, she turned, and then looked to her left and right down the path. With a sigh, she pivoted and stuck out her foot, deciding at last to just commit to a direction and start.
As soon as her foot hit the ground, she bounded up into the air, the effects of gravity suddenly almost nonexistent. Upward she arced until her eyes were almost parallel with the upper branches of the trees, then she fell weightlessly back toward earth. As her foot hit the ground again, she pushed off, sending herself even higher into the air. Birds flew from the trees as her head cleared the canopy, and she could see the green of the forest stretching below her. As the effects of gravity began to take hold again, she willed herself upward, breaking the fall. Her path took her further into the air, and she couldn't help but stick her arms out to her side as the ground fell away. The curvature of the earth became apparent as she looked toward the horizon, the forest beneath her adding texture to the ground line. She laughed as she gained speed, righting her course and heading toward the horizon. As she continued to fly, the forms of buildings began to pop up above the ground in the distance, the tall skyscrapers that she was so familiar with looking almost like toys from so far away.
As she turned her attention below, she could see groups of deer bounding through the underbrush along paths very much like the one she had just been on. The birds that remained in the trees seemed almost startled to see her in the sky, and with very good reason, she figured. It wasn't every day that a normal 15 year old girl just took off into the air, yet here she was. With a whoop, she turned a barrel roll and closed her eyes, relishing the freedom she felt. As she tried to open her eyes, though, a loud buzzing sound pierced her consciousness. It sounded suspiciously like an alarm clock, but there wouldn't be any of those in the sky above the forest. She willed the sound to go away, but the harder she tried, the more frustrated she became. Finally, she pried her eyes open, and saw it. The alarm clock, happily buzzing away, sitting on the nightstand next her bed, just like it always had.
Laura groaned as she sat up and slapped the snooze button on the alarm clock. It had been that flying dream again, only this time it had seemed so much more vivid. Rubbing her eyes, she looked around and reminded herself that it couldn't be real — by all appearances, she was still bound by the laws of gravity, just like everyone else. And a normal, everyday girl such as herself always would be, she figured. After all, the only people who could fly were the supermen, and she certainly wasn't related to them. Even so, it was a very nice dream, one that she was always more than happy to have.
Her eyes returned to the glowing face of the alarm clock, this time making note of exactly what time it was. It almost seemed cruel having to get up at 7 in the middle of summer, but she supposed that certain sacrifices needed to be made if she was going to accomplish her summertime goal. Still, she thought as she heard voices coming from the other side of her bedroom door, she had to relish these summers, because once she grew up they'd be gone. Ask her brother Jon — every time he came over, he let her know just how lucky she was. She didn't have a job, she didn't have responsibilities, just a whole summer to have fun. And do all the chores around the house that her mother assigned to her. And take this driver's education course, which was only offered in the early morning, and started today.
Shaking her head, she cleared away the last vestiges of sleep, deciding once and for all that she was awake. She swung her legs around and climbed out of bed, hesitating as she crossed the room and rested her hand on the doorknob. The sun was peeking through the crack underneath, illuminating an irregular rectangle of floor in that overly cheery morning light that she hated so much. Stepping into that would be painful, but there really wasn't any way of avoiding it, she supposed. With a deep breath, she opened the door and prepared for the onslaught, stumbling blindly into the hall and the morning light.
"Morning, sunshine," she heard her dad say from what sounded like very close. Prying her eyes open, she squinted against the light and turned toward the sound of his voice. He looked positively cheery standing just inside the door to his bedroom, smiling at her. His tie was blinding in its own right, and she had to look away, the colors too much to take for her still weary eyes. How was it possible that they were related, she wondered. His fashion sense was positively embarrassing, although her mom seemed to like it, and he seemed so…chipper in the morning. He seemed chipper a lot of the time, actually. That infectious humor and good natured personality sure seemed to have manifested itself in her brothers, but she wasn't that funny, or upbeat, or personable, especially not in the morning. Maybe she WAS adopted.
"Mmmpf," she answered as she trudged toward the bathroom, vaguely aware of the amused smile it brought to his lips. It was probably just as well that her parents were normally at work when she went to school. Now that her brothers had both gone off to college, she usually had the house to herself on school mornings, so she was free to ease herself into the day. Having them around, though…
"Laura, we're leaving in half an hour. If you want that ride, you better get a move on," she heard her mother say from the depths of her bedroom. Yeah, this one was off to a great start. Slowly but surely, she readied herself, stumbling into a pair of clothes before making her way downstairs and grabbing herself a bowl of cereal. Her parents cuddled and whispered between sips of coffee as they waited for her, and she just sighed and rolled her eyes, trying to put it out of her mind. Trying to find a time when they WEREN'T cuddling and whispering was a challenge, she thought as she shoveled another spoonful of cereal into her mouth. At least they didn't do it much in public. That would be truly embarrassing. After a while, they quit, and her mom straightened her dad's tie before they finally turned their attention to her.
"So, are you looking forward to your very first driver's ed class?" her dad asked. She shrugged and took another bite of her cereal. "Would you like to go out driving tonight?" he continued, making her pause. She looked up as him, curious. There was a note of something in his voice, although she couldn't say exactly what. The suggestion was rather innocent, but he sounded almost nervous as he said it. Looking up at her parents, she noticed that they both wore strange expressions, ones that didn't seem to match the question that had been asked.
Laura chewed for a moment, pondering what that meant. They were probably concerned about the car, she figured. Jon and CJ had shared the "kid car," as her dad had called it, and now that car was residing somewhere in Gotham City. All that was left for her to drive was either the Jeep or the good car, both of which were a lot nicer than what most kids her age would ever be allowed to drive. Yeah, they must be worried about the car, especially since she had never technically driven before. With a smile, she looked at them and tried her best to calm their nerves.
"That would be great," she said with forced perkiness, noticing how that seemed to put them at ease a little. Her mom squeezed her dad's shoulder, and the morning went back to its normal routine. She soon found herself in the back seat of the Jeep as they made their short drive to the high school. Her parents talked about work stuff on the way, and she found herself ignoring them in favor of pondering her upcoming driving lessons. The more she thought about it, the less nervous she was about the class, but driving with her dad tonight would be kind of interesting. They didn't always have much time to do things alone, but when they did, she usually had fun. But by definition, something that involved instruction couldn't be fun, could it? Usually not, but that was where her dad was a genius — he could make anything fun. Falling over when learning to ride her bike as a kid should've been painful, but all she could remember was the happiness and the laughter. Learning algebra certainly shouldn't have been fun, but they way her dad taught it, it was. But this time around, there was a lot at stake if she messed up, and considering the expression he had worn this morning when talking about taking her driving, she wondered if it might just be awkward this time instead.
"We're here," her dad said, drawing her out of her thoughts. She looked out the window and, sure enough, there was the high school. Grabbing her backpack, she mumbled a hasty goodbye and exited the car, closing the door just as she heard her dad tell her to have a nice day. The jeep took off as she approached the school, and suddenly she felt almost lonely. Summer classes, by virtue of the time of year that they were held, generally weren't large, and so far the only other person she had seen at the school was standing by another entrance. Somehow she had figured there would more people here to greet her as she embarked on her first real high school class.
The doors loomed as she moved closer, all of a sudden seeming very imposing. It was silly to think of this building as being threatening in any way, especially since her memories of the few functions she had attended there were generally good, but this was different. This was her, in HIGH SCHOOL; not junior high, not a special school, but high school. This was big time. In a way, being in high school meant that she wasn't really a kid, that she was expected to be more mature, and she didn't really think she was ready to give up the kid inside of her.
Laura stared at the doors for a moment before giving herself a mental shake. It was a school, for goodness sakes, and one lousy summer class with other kids the same age as her. With a determined mindset, she yanked open the door and went inside, entering the gloomy hallways and taking refuge from the bright morning sun. It took a moment for her still-tired eyes to adjust to the fluorescent glow of the hallway, but as soon as they did, she was off, taking measured strides down the main hallway en route to her class. This wasn't so bad, she told herself. Nothing threatening so far. In fact, it was probably better that she was getting initiated into high school like when there were no upperclassmen around to rag on her and the rest of the newcomers. Right now, she owned this hallway. With a new confidence, she looked around, surveying her surroundings. The rows of lockers seemed to stretch on into infinity, broken only by the occasional classroom door. Above the lockers were framed photographs of kids, some of which were obviously a few decades old. Others, however, seemed newer, and as she walked along, she scanned the faces, until, suddenly, she saw one that was all too familiar.
There, smiling down at her from the upper reaches of the wall, was the very young face of her brother Jon. Her progress came to a screeching halt as she gaped at the picture, moving closer to it so that she could read the engraved brass plaque beneath it. "All state band member," it read, listing the years that he had made the band. Well, THAT was no pressure, she thought as she began to inch her way down the hallway, her eyes still on the picture. SHE was in the band, and she knew the director was the same one that Jon had had. So, because Jon had set the bar so high, the director would naturally think that she would also be all state material, and she just wasn't sure of that. No pressure at all, she thought with a grunt. She'd only have her brother's face looking down on her every day to remind her of what people thought she'd be capable of.
As she turned the corner into a different hallway, a new set of pictures greeted her. Looking at the title of the photo gallery, her stomach began to clench up. "Academic Excellence," it read, meaning all the people looking down on her had gotten 4.0 grade point averages throughout their high school careers. She knew what was coming even before she saw it. Slowly but surely, her eyes finally located the picture of her brother CJ. That show off. At least Jon wasn't here, too, she thought. Still, two brothers, two honors, and now all eyes were on her. She could see it now — she'd walk into a class, one with a teacher her brother had had, and the teacher would invariably remember what he had done, and she would be expected to do as well as him academically. The problem was, her brother, although a bit goofy and strange, was very smart, smarter than she was, she knew. It would follow, then, that she wouldn't meet expectations, and she would be considered a failure, a blight on the family legacy. What a great prospect to have for high school, she thought gloomily as she turned the corner again. Be more of an overachiever than her brothers or be a disappointment. Wahoo.
Her mood was decidedly gloomy as she reached the driver's education room. She could almost feel the eyes of her instructor boring into her as she found a desk, his inner thoughts undoubtedly telling him that she was another member of the talented Kent clan and imbuing her with certain characteristics because of that. At least her colleagues didn't have the same preconceptions, she thought as she looked around. She had known a lot of these people for the better part of her life. Her mood perked up as she saw her good friend Stacy walk through the door, immediately making eye contact with her and waving. Maybe that was all there was to this high school thing, she thought as Stacy sat down in the desk next to hers. Forget about your problems and surround yourself with friends, and everything would just fade into the background. Still, as they talked about their activities of the summer, she couldn't help but think about those photographs, and the legacy that she would have to live up to.
Laura leaned back in the overstuffed car seat, keeping her eyes firmly out the window as her father continued to drive. For whatever reason, she had imagined herself doing more of the driving during their outing. As it was, he had been driving for a good twenty minutes, the buildings of the city thinning out as they continued through the suburbs and out of the city. It only figured that he would want to go as far into the country as possible, considering his earlier concern for the car — the further they went, the less there was to hit. She didn't know whether she should be insulted about the lack of trust that showed, or to be grateful about the pressure that it would take off of her.
"So how was your first driver's ed class?" her dad asked, breaking the silence in the car. Laura smiled slightly and looked toward him, glad for the break from her thoughts.
"We didn't do much," she said with a shrug. "The teacher gave out the schedule and the book, and then sent us on our way."
He glanced over to her, flashed a brief smile, then turned his attention back toward the road. "Bet it felt strange to be taking classes at the high school," he said, and Laura found herself not knowing how to answer. Strange was definitely one way to put it. In one long walk through the halls, all the confidence she had always had for school seemed to get sucked out of her, replaced with a dread of what was to come and the sudden celebrity she would no doubt have. She'd never really felt pressured to succeed before, to live up to any precedent set by anyone, but now suddenly she did. It wasn't fair to CJ and Jon to blame them for putting her in that position, but at the same time, it was hard not to. So now the threat of relative failure loomed over her head, and she'd only been in school for a day. The feeling of gloominess began to take hold of her as she watched the city flash by outside, and she felt the sudden urge to blurt out all her problems, whether it would darken the mood in the car or not. Her mouth opened to say the words, but as she looked over toward her dad, she closed it again. It didn't take a genius to figure out what he would say. He'd undoubtedly tell her that he and Mom would love her no matter what, and that she wouldn't be a failure so long as she tried her best. Even thinking about the words comforted her, bringing a smile to her face. Suddenly, the urge to burden him with her problems just seemed to die.
"I remember when I was in high school, you couldn't start a new school year without a couple of freshmen being stuffed into a locker…" her dad said, causing Laura to realize that she hadn't actually said anything in response to his last statement. "The older kids would do things like try and get the freshmen to buy an elevator pass, even though we went to a one story school," he continued, his voice a bit nostalgic.
"I thought those kinds of things were just urban legends," Laura said with a genuine smile, the dark mood chased away by yet another one of her dad's stories.
"I think there has to be some book out there that gets passed on to bullies throughout the generations about just how to torture new high school students. Ask your mom, ask your brothers — it just wouldn't be the first day of school without someone's gym shorts ending up at the top of a flagpole."
She laughed at that, marveling how it was that he could always chase away her dark moods. "Well, it IS just summer school. I think all the bullies are off planning for August." As she spoke, she noticed that they were pulling into a county park. After driving through the city, the dense growth of trees interspersed with grass clearings dotted with picnic tables almost seemed foreign. The road they were on wound through the park until it reached a small lake bordered by a large, sandy beach and an empty asphalt parking lot.
"Here we are," her dad said as her turned off the ignition. As he unfastened his seat belt, he dangled the keys in front of her, and Laura could only gawk at them for a moment before she finally took them. She was embarking on her first driver's lesson, and she had never so much as pulled the car out of the garage before. With a gulp, she climbed out of the car and walked around the front, meeting her dad halfway. As they passed each other, he laid a hand on her shoulder, halting her progress. She found her eyes searching out his, and locking into them. The hand on her shoulder suddenly gave a reassuring squeeze, and a comforting smile formed on his face.
"You'll be just fine," he said in that soothing way of his, instinctively knowing what was troubling her. "It's always hard doing something for the first time, but I trust you." With that, he nodded and dropped his hand, continuing toward his side of the car.
Trust, Laura thought. It felt good to know that she held his trust, but at the same time, something seemed out of place. As she continued on toward the driver's door, she remembered her parents' nervousness at the mention of this lesson. Maybe they had had time think about it and change their minds, she thought as she sat down. It wasn't as if she was wild and irresponsible, after all. If anything, she was a little too reserved, cared a little too much what people thought of her. The worries she held about high school only proved that, she thought. So it was only a matter of time before her parents decided that she was trustworthy.
As she closed the door, her father instructed her on just how to start off. Put the key in the ignition, adjust the seat, fasten her belt, and adjust the mirrors. In a matter of minutes, she was on her way, cautiously piloting her car through the parking lot, and later through the roads of the park. She drove for at least half an hour, and by the time she finally pulled the car over and relinquished the keys to her father, she was feeling very confident about her skills as a driver. Climbing out of the car again, she noticed her dad heading for the trunk. Puzzled, she stopped to watch as he pulled out a small cooler, then motioned for her to follow him to a nearby picnic table.
"What's this?" she asked with a chuckle as she jogged to catch up with him.
"Snacks," he said nonchalantly. She sent a confused glance toward him, then shrugged. It was all part of the experience, she supposed. Happy memories of trips to the ice cream shop and the Fudge Castle flashed in her mind, and she had to smile. Part of making things fun was satisfying the legendary Kent sweet tooth, and this was just a more mundane way of doing that. It was all the better, she thought, since her mom wasn't there to try and accuse them of fattening her up. It was just the two of them, doing father-daughter type stuff, and Laura would be lying if she said that she didn't look forward to moments like these.
As they sat down, the cooler was opened, revealing a treasure trove of snack cakes and junk food. Laura absently reached for an oatmeal round, quickly opening the wrapper and taking a bite.
"Congratulations on a successful night of driving," her dad said as he pulled a cupcake out of the cooler, holding it up in a mock toast to her.
"Well, everything is still in one piece, so I guess it went okay," Laura responded with a wide smile. He grinned at her as he tore the wrapper away from his cupcake, finally diverting his eyes as the smile began to fade from his face. "As driving lessons go, I'd say it went better than okay. You couldn't ask for a better spot," he said as he looked around, surveying the trees surrounding them. Laura found her eyes following his, and she couldn't help but appreciate the setting. She had initially been curious about why they had come out here, but after driving on the secluded roads and enjoying the scenery, she found it wasn't a mystery at all. Plus, it was no secret that her dad was still a bit of a country boy at heart, and she knew that he actively sought out places like this in Metropolis, small islands within the city where he could almost feel like he was out in the country again.
The sound of a sigh brought her attention back to him, and she noticed that a small frown had worked its way onto his face. After a moment, he seemed to notice her eyes on him and his expression immediately transformed into one of good-natured happiness, but Laura wasn't fooled. She knew when her dad was obsessing about something, and this was certainly one of those times. Her eyebrows knitted together as she looked down at the oatmeal round in her hand. Why did she get the feeling that the snacks and the trip to the country weren't all about driving after all?
"It's certainly nice and private out here," she said, dropping the not-so-subtle hint that she knew that not all was right with the situation. The forced smile on her dad's face faltered somewhat at that, and he sighed again, apparently knowing better than to try and delay whatever it was that he wanted to say any further.
"Quiet, too," he said with a raise of the eyebrows. In a nervous gesture, his free hand came and ran though his hair. "The perfect type of place for fathers and daughters to sit down together, maybe discuss some things," he said, his expression almost pleading with her. Yup, this was definitely not about the driving lessons.
"What kinds of things?" she asked with a bemused half smile. It was odd how her father seemed to have this other side to him that she was seeing now, a side so alien to the confident father she was used to. Her whole life she had seen her dad as being goofy, funny, and a kid at heart. But at the same time he was also very much in charge, and had that whole fatherly aura around him, the type that made her almost feel that he could do no wrong. But every now and then he would step out of character and get nervous about something, although most of the time she knew that he tried to keep it from her and her brothers. The only reason she knew about those moods at all was because she had eavesdropped on her parents one night and heard her father agonizing over something. While it couldn't say that he was agonizing over anything right now, he also wasn't confident or funny, at least not on purpose.
"Well," he said, pausing to collect himself. "You're getting older, and growing up, and with that comes certain changes that you might not be aware of…"
Laura reached out for his shoulder, cutting him off. The urge to laugh was almost unbearable, but she held it in, thinking that it could hurt his feelings. All this build up, all the nervousness, it made sense now. He wanted to talk to her about the birds and the bees!
"Dad," she said, drawing a puzzled look from him. "You don't have to tell me. I already know."
"You do?" he asked, looking almost horrified. The case of the giggles that she was holding back died suddenly as she felt a burst of affection for him. It was funny how his old-fashioned midwestern upbringing manifested itself sometimes. In this day and age and in this city, girls knew about the facts of life long before they turned fifteen, but the fact that he seemed somehow shocked at that was very endearing.
"Yeah, we talked about it in school. I know all about puberty and all that." Laura looked away as her cheeks reddened. This was definitely not the type of subject that girls should be talking about with their fathers. "Me and mom talked about it, too. I'm actually kind of surprised she didn't tell you."
The sound of his gentle laughter interrupted her thought process, and looked up. Her dad was shaking his head, a genuinely amused smile on his face. When he caught her eyes on him, he looked up at her, the tension that had been present before completely absent now. "I can't tell you how grateful I am not to have to give THAT speech, believe me," he said before taking a bite of his cupcake. He looked at her thoughtfully as he chewed, the relative silence of the woods descending upon them.
"I wasn't talking about puberty, though," he said after a few seconds, the smile slipping off his face. "There are some things about your family that your mother and I haven't told you about, and that's why I brought you here."
What could he possibly need to tell her about the family that would require bringing her all the way out here, she wondered. Her family was as normal as they came, a fact that she lamented on a daily basis. Yes, her brother was a genius, and her other brother was pretty smart, too, but that wasn't odd, not really. And her parents were minor celebrities around Metropolis, but that wouldn't necessarily impact on family matters. She could go crazy analyzing different situations, she finally decided. Give her another minute and she was sure that she could convince herself that someone was dying. With great effort, she pushed the speculation out of her head and gave her father her undivided attention.
"When I was your age, my parents sat me down at the kitchen table and told me about how I came into their lives," he said after a moment. "I had always known that I was adopted, but I had never bothered to ask how or why. When you're a kid, sometimes you assume things, and I had always just figured that I had been dropped at my parents' doorstep one day, a gift to a couple that obviously wanted children very badly. I guess in a way, that turned out to be true. But I never could've imagined that it had happened the way it did."
Laura leaned over and placed her elbows on her knees, cradling her head in her hands, absorbed in the story. "It was dark out, my parents said, when they saw what they thought was a shooting star streaking across the sky," he continued, his eyes distant. "As they watched, it grew closer and closer, finally roaring over the top of their truck so closely that they could feel the heat from it. The meteor crashed in a nearby field, and my parents rushed over to investigate. They had expected to see a misshapen rock of some sort, but what they found instead was a tiny ship, and a baby. Me."
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him. There had to be a punchline here somewhere. "Babies don't just fall from the sky," he continued, taking the thought right out of her mind. "They didn't question their good fortune, though. So they took me in and raised me like a normal child. After a few years, though, they began to realize that I wasn't a normal child. I stopped getting sick. I stopped getting hurt. I started lifting objects that even my dad in his prime couldn't even think about lifting. Odd things happened to me, scary things. When I hit puberty, I started being able to hear sounds from the next house over, even though that house was over a mile away. One day I was looking at something in the barn and it burst into flames. I didn't know what to think about it, until my parents told me the truth about my origins."
Laura knew her jaw was hanging open. The story sounded fantastic, like something out of a bad science fiction novel, but her dad had never lied to her before, and the emotion in his voice told her that he wasn't lying to her now, either. A little voice in the back of her head kept trying to tell her just what it was that her father was saying, but she pushed it away. It was too fantastic to be true, wasn't it?
"It was only years later that I found out the whole story," her father continued. It was only as he turned and met his eyes with hers that she realized that she had been staring at him. "Laura," he said, placing his hand on her knee. "I'm not from Earth. I come from a place called Krypton, a planet several million light years away, a planet that no longer exists. My birth parents sent me away to save me from the fate of Krypton, and that's how I ended up in a spaceship in the Kansas plain all those years ago. My Kryptonian heritage has made me different from everyone else, and there are so many things that I can do, wonderful things, and maybe someday you'll be able to do them, too. I use the abilities I have to help people, but I never, ever let anyone know it's me.
"I am Clark Kent, that's who I am, always remember that. I am your father, hopefully I am your friend, and I love you and your mother and brothers with all my heart. But when I go out to help the world, people only know me as…Superman." His jaw set as his expression became resolute, and Laura felt herself go cold. She searched his face, desperately looking for signs that he wasn't being truthful, but she found nothing. Her eyes searched the forest, looking for hidden cameras, but she didn't find any of those either. Again she turned back to him, trying to summon some sort of emotion. She knew she should be shocked, or horrified, or angry or insulted or any number of things, but she just didn't feel anything, and that scared her.
"That can't be true," she finally rasped. His expression turned almost apologetic as he pulled his hand from her and stood slowly, removing the glasses from his face in one fluid motion. It was funny how she had never seen him without the glasses, she thought as she shivered involuntarily. Her eyes were studying his now-bare face when suddenly his form turned into a blur, and it was Superman standing in front of her, not her dad. But, strangely, all she noticed was his face, and how it hadn't changed at all. His expression was still soft and sympathetic, his eyes still the same kind eyes that she had always known.
"I want to show you something," he said, holding out his hand as he slowly walked toward her. Out of instinct, she reached out to him, and he gathered her into his arms. Just then, the world fell away from them, and the trees and grass of the park morphed together until there were a green rectangle below her, integrated into the web of streets that crisscrossed the ground below her. She forced herself to look up, and saw the Metropolis skyline in all its glory, reflecting the orange hues of the late evening sun and sparkling like a gem. It was breathtaking, she thought, better that any of the dreams she had ever had.
"It's so beautiful," she whispered as they came to a stop, hanging in midair directly above the park they had been in.
"The whole world is beautiful from up here," her dad said, and she smiled. "One of the greatest things of being who I am is the ability to see the world from above, where everything is so much less chaotic. Someday you may know that joy yourself. Just remember when you start experiencing all the strange things that come with growing up as my daughter, how wonderful it can all be in the end." They hovered in the air for a few more minutes, before they descended slowly to the ground in the same clearing where they had started. Her dad set her on the ground, and she felt a gust of wind. Looking behind her, she saw that he was once again dressed as himself, and she suddenly felt more at ease.
"I guess we should head home," he said as he walked over to the table and gathered up their snacks. Laura rushed over and grabbed a handful of treats out of the cooler before it was closed up, drawing a bemused look from her dad. For whatever reason, she felt like she needed some chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
As they sat down in the car and headed for home, Laura once again turned out the window, absently watching the city go by as she munched on her treats. She tried to think about what had just happened, she wanted to think about what had just happened, but she just couldn't. It was all too much, and it still seemed unbelievable. A part of her wanted to say that none of it had happened, and she began to wonder if she was still in the middle of one of her dreams, but the things that she had felt, the details she had seen, had been so much more vivid than in any dream she had ever had. Maybe later she could think about it and decide how she felt, but in the meantime, she sat in silence, ignoring the slight feeling of tension that had developed in the car. It would all be okay tomorrow, she told herself.
Slowly, the car pulled into the garage, and Laura forced her mind back to the present. As it came to a stop and she climbed out, she took one last, long look at the rapidly darkening sky as the garage door slowly blocked away her view. She didn't want the outside world to go away, she didn't want to lose that one place that her mind could escape to. The last thing she wanted to do right now was confront her parents inside the house that she had known her entire life and be forced to have to reexamine everything she had ever known as a result. Even the most mundane memories would be colored by the fact that her father was someone and something other than she had thought. Whether that was wrong or right was irrelevant, she thought with a sigh. She knew herself well enough to know that it would happen, that it was inevitable, and she wanted just a few more precious moments to remember what it felt like to be normal.
That thought almost caused her to break down in a fit of hysterical tears, but she shoved them roughly away, her pride not letting her break down in front of her father. It was a sad thought, though. She had always taken for granted the fact that she was just an ordinary teen with an ordinary family, and for some sick reason she had secretly wished a little excitement for herself. If she only knew then what she knew now… Maybe someday she'd laugh at those memories, but right now all she could do was feel sorry for the innocence that she had lost.
Abruptly, her subconscious willed her morbid chain of thought to stop. Slowly, she walked toward the door leading into the house, applying all her effort to pasting a neutral smile on her face and clearing her mind. She followed her father inside, through the foyer, and into the living room, where her mother sat at the roll-top desk, deeply engrossed writing something or another. The sound of their approach drew her away from her work, and she gave a quick smile to the two of them. Laura plopped herself on the couch, turning on the TV in hopes of finding yet another distraction for her thoughts.
"How'd it go?" her mom asked as her dad bent down to kiss her. Laura didn't need to look to see the kiss — she could hear it just fine from across the room. Most people, when affectionate toward each other, were generally quiet about it. Not her parents. No, they came with sound effects, which they always seemed to employ at precisely the times that she wanted to hear them least.
"I thought it went well," her father said, his tone conveying a confidence that Laura didn't feel at all. It could never be said that her father wasn't an optimist, and that was certainly showing now. Maybe he had mistook the tense silence of the car ride home as a sign of her acceptance, or maybe it was possible that her reaction was a step up from how her brothers had reacted. Who knows? But whatever it was, for a moment her mother seemed to buy it. But it was only a moment. Laura could feel her mother's eyes boring into her, searching for something, before finally, mercifully, she could feel them look away.
"Are you sure?" Laura could her mother whisper to her father, and Laura almost turned to let them know that she could, in fact, hear them, but she decided against it. This was her time for relaxation and not for talking or doing anything that required thought. In line with that idea, she flipped through the channels until she came to the UWBM, the network known for cheesy teen dramas. Some random boy she had never seen before was sitting on the screen with no shirt on, his chest nicely oiled up, while he talked to a girl wearing too much make-up. Take the girl with the make- up away and you might have a decent show, she thought as she tossed the remote on the couch next to her.
"It went as well as could be expected," her dad said softly to her mom. "I thought there would be more fireworks, but so far she has been very calm about it."
Laura rolled her eyes. Did they even notice her in the same room? She forced herself to zero in on the upbeat rock coming from the TV speakers as she watched the muscled oily guy start to lift a set of weights with some less impressive pals. For a moment, she felt her mother's eyes on her again, but she ignored it.
"Well, I guess that's good," her mom replied. There was a quick rustle of clothes before she started speaking again. "Third time is a charm, I guess."
What was that supposed to mean? Laura's eyebrows knit together before she reminded herself that she wasn't listening to them. On the television, the oily guy talked about some wild party he was throwing that weekend when his parents were scheduled to be away, getting approving comments from his friends. Then suddenly, a hand appeared next to her, grabbing the remote off the couch. "This is the kind of thing they market to teens?" she heard her mother mutter from just behind her before the channel changed to one of the news networks that her parents liked to watch. The time had officially come to find a different way to distract herself, Laura thought.
"I'm going to my room," she said, looking away from them as she quickly got off the couch and maneuvered her way to the staircase and up to her own, personal, parent-free haven. She made sure that the door was closed tightly before sinking into the chair at her desk, flipping on the TV as she did. The channel with the oily guy on it had gone to commercial, so she searched her desk for other distractions. The manual from her driver's ed course sat on top of everything, cruelly reminding her of the reading assignment that she still needed to do, but she shoved it aside. That most certainly wasn't the type of distraction that she was looking for. A few layers of paper further down, she ran across a stack of 'Teen Phenom' magazines, and she gladly pulled those out, more than happy to get lost in the mind-numbing exploits of teen and young adult celebrities. She briefly wondered why exactly those magazines were on her desk in the first place, since normally she couldn't care less about the lives of celebrities, teenaged or not, but then remembered that one of her friends had brought them over a few weeks earlier. Why was it that her friends kept trying to get her to read this stuff? No amount of hype in the world could ever make her think that the latest boy band was any good, or dreamy, or even worth listening to. But as far as distractions went, even boy bands would suffice right now.
As the first magazine finally came free of the papers that had been on top of it, a familiar logo began to reveal itself. Curious, Laura pushed the rest of the clutter away to reveal the whole cover of the magazine. There, in the lower corner, was the Superman symbol. 'Meet the newest Superhero,' the headline underneath read in neon print, and suddenly her curiosity began to morph into a sense of dread. With somewhat shaky hands, she thumbed to the page listed for the article, and was immediately confronted by several full page shots of the newest Superman, decked out in his red and black uniform, seemingly oblivious to the photographers.
"Jon," she whispered, her mouth suddenly dry. Flipping the page, she saw another picture, this time with him speaking.
"Meet the Crimson Superman, the newest American phenom, and son of the original Superman," the article started, and Laura found herself reading along, pulled into the article for a reason that she couldn't quite comprehend. "Although he has become popular with girls everywhere, the Crimson Superman is shy about talking to reporters, and even more shy about revealing any intimate details about himself." It only figured, Laura thought with a snort. He wouldn't even tell his own sister what his night time hobby was, so why would he tell some random teen rag about his personal life? Laura read on, fully expecting to see all the juicy details on what his favorite color or flavor of ice cream was, but was mildly surprised to find out that the article was based on nothing but speculation. Okay, maybe surprised wasn't the best word. But she did find it interesting that the new hero's avoidance of reporters was so severe. In fact, none of the pictures looked like they had been posed for. Some looked rather amateurish, in fact, and she wondered just how far they went to get an original photo of him. Curious, she flipped the page again, and what she saw made her eyes go wide and her heart start to race.
The top picture showed the two supermen together, seated on top of a building. The Crimson Superman was looking at his father, obviously engrossed in some tale, the same kind that Laura had heard many times before. The picture could've been taken at the picnic table out back, or in the room next door. The second one, though, showed the two of them flying away, side by side. By itself, it really wasn't that special, but when partnered with the picture above it, it made the point hit home with her once and for all. All the feelings that she had been holding in burst forth at once, and suddenly it almost felt like she had been punched in the stomach. A shudder wracked her body as she finally began to cry hysterical, desperate tears. The magazine slipped from her hand at some point, but she didn't notice. All she could think about were the people that she had called her family, the people that she thought she had known. It could arguably have been said that her big brother and her father had been the two people that she had been closest to in the world, but now she knew that she had been kept at arm's length by them. It was enough to make her question her worth and her value, not only to the family, but to the world as a whole.
It wasn't a hard thing to do, she thought miserably as she moved to the bed. It wasn't bad enough that she had the pressure at school of living up to Jon's all-state berth or CJ's crummy 4.0 grade point average. Suddenly, she needed to live up to the man considered to be the most heroic and virtuous person on the planet, too. A groan escaped her as she curled up and rolled over, the light rock of the teen drama show giving her thoughts an unwanted soundtrack. That was her dad out there saving lives and doing all those fantastic things. And that was her brother beside him, carrying the torch for the next generation. It was only logical to assume that someone with the family talents would inherit the family business, as it were. But what if she didn't want to be like that? What if she COULDN'T be like that? She was only human, or mostly human, after all. In the course of life, people made mistakes, and what if one of those mistakes came back to her, making it impossible for her to live up to that image? If she messed this up, the stakes were that much higher, the potential loss that much more. One mistake and she couldn't and wouldn't be a hero to the world. So why even try? Why bother to be the good daughter, the hero-in-training? If failure was inevitable, and it sure seemed to be, then why go though all the work just to be upset?
With a sigh, she rolled over onto her other side, staring absently at the posters that adorned her wall. The cutesy cartoons and furry kitty pictures that had been her staple for so many years almost seemed to mock her now. They were reminders of a time when she had been more innocent, a whole twenty four hours ago. It was amazing what a day could do to a person, she thought as her eyes gradually wandered down the wall, finally coming to rest on the framed family photograph on her desk. Who were those people? All her memories told her one thing, but tonight her eyes had been pried open in a way, forcing her to reexamine what they all meant. Who was Superman to her, anyway? To the world he was a celebrity, a man who got mobbed wherever he went, a man who had dolls and clothing and comic books modeled off him. Like she did with a lot of pop culture, she had more or less ignored him. Yes, he could move mountains, but that didn't mean that she wanted to carry a Superman lunchbox, or put sheets with little S shields on them on her bed. She had never bothered to think about how he spent his nights, although if she had, she probably would've just assumed that he floated on a cloud somewhere when he wasn't rescuing anyone. Why on Earth would she ever connect him to her dad? Even now it almost seemed unreal, but she had seen him change, she had flown with him. That picture made the point that much more clear, but the logistics of it all still baffled her. Even if he was Superman, how could he do that and still do all the things that her dad did? And what about her brother? That one shocked her more than the thought of her dad being a superhero. He just didn't seem the type. He wasn't an athlete, or overly aggressive, and before seeing the pictures of him as Superman, she would never have believed that he was as well built as he was. She certainly didn't remember him having those rippling muscles when they would go swimming as kids. Shows what she knew. Very little, apparently.
Well, if her dad and brother were superheroes, what exactly did that mean for her? It had already been established that she was going to be a dismal failure in trying to be like them, so… Her eyebrow cocked as an unfamiliar feeling began to grow inside of her. It was a feeling that she had heard about, that was very familiar to a lot of the girls she knew. When the world is against you, her friends would sometimes say, then tell the world where it can shove it. That idea had never appealed to her before, if only because the safety and security of her family had protected her from becoming that cynical, but now that wasn't the case. The world had hit her upside the head with a two-by-four, and she wasn't going to take it lying down. Now was as good a time as any to see what kind of fun was out there to be had, what kind of things could be accomplished when she wiggled out from underneath the thumb of her family and got a little wild. Rebellion had never seemed attractive before, but things change. From now on, she decided, she would be herself, the Laura Kent that would've been before she knew she was a super descendant. To heck with them all.
Just then, a light knocking came from her door. "Laura?" she heard her mom say in her most concerned voice.
"Go away, Mom," she said as she draped her arm over her eyes. She had just decided on her course of action, and she wasn't about to let her mom talk her out of it now.
"Are you all right, honey?" her mom asked, bringing a snort from Laura. Of course she wasn't all right!
"Well, let's see. Tonight I found out that my dad's really someone else, that my whole family has been lying to me for years, and that all the people I thought I knew best I don't really know at all. Yeah, I'm just fantastic."
The sigh from her mother was audible even through the door. "Maybe if we can talk about it, you'll see that it's not as bad as you think…"
"Yeah, it's probably worse," Laura shot back, knowing that she was probably being a bit unfair. But what did they expect? Did they honestly think that she wouldn't be upset? Weren't girls her age notorious for that?
"Well, if you don't want to talk about it, I won't make you. But please don't push us away. We love you, Laura." Her mom's words trailed off, then footsteps retreating from the door signaled that she was gone. Just as well, Laura thought with a pout as she got up to turn off the lights and the TV. She had nothing to say to either of her parents right now. Maybe in the morning she would see things differently, but she doubted it. It was going to be quite a long time before she forgave either of them. In the meantime, though… A smile actually crept onto her face as she laid down in bed. In the meantime, she would do the things a normal, red-blooded teenager did, and she would enjoy them, whether her parents approved or not.
The sky above Metropolis was a clear, radiant blue as the sun made its way directly overhead. A lazy calmness that came from the sticky heat of the summer began to settle over the city, only to be broken by the sound of distant thunder. The gentle rumble began to build, rattling the windows of the houses and causing the local fauna to scatter as it grew louder, more forceful. All over the city, eyes were looking toward the heaven, searching out the clouds that they had assumed were up there, but all they saw was a streak of red and black across the sky. Those who had lived in Metropolis for any length of time just smiled and shook their head as they looked away, knowing it was their famous superhero taking to the skies, most likely on his way to rescue someone.
In the air, the streaking superhero gradually became aware of the situation he was causing, and he forced himself to slow his rate of speed. It was strange how sound seemed to simply go away once he hit mach one, Jon thought, but as he pondered the lessons he learned in freshman physics in college, he supposed that it wasn't so strange. Still, one of the things that took some getting used to as part of his new hero gig was flying in the big city, where sonic booms were generally frowned upon. Learning to fly during father/son excursions to the country in high school and college had been great, because the wide open spaces meant that there was nobody around to see a kid doing what only Superman should be able to do. But it also meant that there were no consequences when he inadvertently broke the sound barrier, something that became crystal clear to him once he was able to start taking to the friendly skies of Metropolis. In his first couple of weeks on the job, the news had been littered with reports of damage from his inadvertent jumps to supersonic speeds, prompting a talk from his father about when it was appropriate to fly that fast. Of course, he didn't come with a built in speedometer, but there were ways to tell when the sound barrier was approaching, and barring rescues, he tried not to travel that fast anymore. Besides, there usually wasn't anywhere he needed to be in non critical situations that would require speeds in excess of 700 miles per hour. He certainly wasn't in a hurry to reach his destination today, a place that was filled with a lot of memories, both good and bad.
Today's destination was the high school, HIS high school from years ago, and a certain little sister of his who should be leaving the school in a matter of minutes. He could see the building on the horizon, easily picking it out among the familiar neighborhoods that had been his home for 18 years. It sat in the middle of a dark smudge of asphalt that made up the massive parking lot, although the illusion caused by the noontime heat rising off the asphalt almost made it look like the school was drowning in a lake of water. The high school students should be so lucky, he thought as he drew closer, and the school grounds came into sharper focus. The updraft from the parking lot heat buffeted him as he circled around the school, finally landing in a small grove of trees in the back. It was amazing how little things changed at this place, he thought as he made his way toward the main entrance. The trees that had been planted his senior year were starting to get bigger, and the parking lot had expanded out and resurfaced. But the building itself hadn't changed one iota, and the benches and monuments dotting the campus still all looked the same, even the ones that he had sworn were hit by cars years ago still seemed off kilter. If he felt bold enough to venture inside, he would probably see the same teachers in the same classrooms, too, but that would be where the similarities to the school he knew would end. The students were what truly made the school, and he doubted that he would know anyone who was enrolled there now. Everyone would no doubt look so young, and the fashions would most assuredly look entirely different from when he was there. Time had moved on around this timeless campus, but that was the way the world worked.
With a sigh, Jon took a seat on a concrete bench by the main entrance, trying not to let the old memories come flooding back. His sister, he told himself, he was here for his sister, and she probably needed all the help he could give her. His parents had actually seemed worried when they had come to him earlier that day, telling him how Laura had locked herself in her room the night before after being told the big family secret, then she'd refused to so much as look at them that morning. When they'd asked her questions, she wouldn't even grunt in return. It had gotten to the point where they had actually been worried that she wouldn't even make it to school, but Jon was sure that that was one thing they didn't need to worry about. When mad at their parents, the last thing any kid wanted to do was hang around the house, especially if their friends were all at the high school. So naturally he had been elected to try and talk to her, to see if he could get her to open up, although he wasn't sure how much he could do. It was true that he had been in her shoes once, and that he had probably felt much the same as she was now, but that didn't mean that she'd feel obligated to tell him anything. It was quite possible that she lumped him in with Mom and Dad, thinking him no more trustworthy than either of them were. After all, he had been one of the people who had kept secrets from her, and his secret was just as big as his father's. In truth, CJ might be the best person to be doing this, since he had yet to don the spandex, but he was in Gotham for the summer. Figured.
A dozen different ways to approach the impending conversation swirled around in Jon's head, none of them particularly willing to assert itself. Whatever he decided to say would depend so much on how she felt about the situation that it was hard to decide on a course of action. When he had found out about his father, he had remembered being confused. Suddenly, he had felt like he was forced to look at his father completely differently than he had before, and it was hard to do until he figured out that he didn't have to in the first place. His father had always been the same person, it was more a matter of pulling back to finally get the full view of who he was. Laura would see that in time, but it would be harder for her, because it wasn't just her dad who had been holding out on her. She must feel like her whole family was a lie, he thought, wondering how he would handle the feeling of deception if he were in her shoes. Maybe she was feeling depressed, or maybe…oh, he didn't know. Fifteen seemed like so many years ago, it was hard to guess at what it was. The bottom line was that she would have to tell him.
As he sat on the bench, lost in thought, the loud ringing of a bell jarred him rudely back to the present. In a matter of moments, kids started streaming out the door, looking just as young as he thought they would. After a few minutes, he saw his sister exit the building, talking animatedly to a friend. Jon stood up and approached, immediately drawing the attention of the girl that Laura was with. It only took a moment for Laura to look his way, too, and immediately her eyes went wide with surprise before narrowing into suspicious slits.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice devoid of the accusatory tone that he had expected. That was a start, he supposed. With that, he plastered the most casual smile that he could muster onto his face.
"I thought I'd walk you home. Maybe we could talk on the way," he said to her, before acknowledging her friend, who seemed to be sizing him up.
"I'll, uh, let you guys go," the friend said, casting a smile toward Jon before looking back at Laura. "I'll see you tonight, right?"
Laura nodded in response, but she never took her eyes off Jon. The corners of her mouth had turned down ever so slightly, and Jon was struck by how odd it seemed to see her frowning. In their family, there was usually happiness, or at the very least contentment, and even when lost in a project or hard at work, a smile always seemed to be right there, just waiting for the right moment to materialize. But that certainly wasn't the case right now for Laura, whose frown in concert with the lines under her eyes spoke volumes about the inner struggles she was having. Slowly, they began to walk in the general direction of the Kent home, an uncomfortable silence descending on them.
"So how is your class going?" Jon asked, attempting to break the ice. A shrug greeted him in response.
"S'okay," she said, her voice hard.
"Is Mr. Mathers still teaching that class?" he tried again, but to no avail.
"No. Mr. Brown," she said in the same tone as before. So much for breaking the ice, Jon thought. She wasn't dumb, she probably knew exactly why he was there. There really wasn't any point in delaying things any longer, he thought with a sigh. Might as well just get on with it.
"Mom and Dad thought you might need someone to talk to," he said after a moment of silence. "I'm sure what they told you last night was a shock, but maybe it won't seem so bad if you can just talk it over with someone who's been there."
At his words, she stopped, her frown morphing into an almost painfully smug smirk. "I knew it," she mumbled as she began to shake her head. Jon just stood there and looked at her, waiting for her to continue. It looked like she was fighting some inner struggle, wrestling with just what exactly she was going to say to him. For a moment, she looked about ready to tell him off, then she seemed to soften a little, before getting a suspicious look on her face again. "And just what made them think I'd talk to you?" she asked finally, guardedly.
Jon shrugged in response. "Because I know what you're going through," he said, trying to make his voice sound calm, but not patronizing. The last thing she needed right now was to be talked down to, or humored. She needed someone to be honest with her, and that's what he intended to do.
Her arms folded across her chest as she stared at him, through him, her expression growing stormier with each passing moment. Finally she snorted and started stalking down the sidewalk, continuing right past him. "I didn't ask for any of this," she said as she went along, seemingly talking to nobody. Jon turned and followed her, jogging to catch up. "Everything was just great until yesterday, and now I don't know anything anymore. I don't know my family, I don't know myself, and I don't even know if the things I've experienced all my life were real." Her hands flew around as she continued, not sending so much of a glance toward her brother. "If given a choice, I can honestly say that I would rather be some normal kid with a normal family. I don't want this, any of it."
She almost seemed to be on the brink of tears, even though her voice remained angry. She would never let anyone see when something was hurting her — she was stubborn that way, just like most of the people in their family. But he knew enough to sense the anguish disguised as anger, and he could certainly understand. Quickly, he jogged ahead, right into her line of sight, and captured her eyes with his own. "Do you think any of us wanted this?" he asked quietly, causing her eyes to go wide and her pace to falter. "The last thing you want when you're a kid is to be different, and being a part of this family means being as different as they come."
She gaped at him for a moment before her eyes narrowed again and her strides became longer and more powerful than they had been even a couple moments earlier. "Yeah, some sentiment coming from the big shot hero," she said as she gave him the dirtiest look she could muster. Jon sighed and fell into step beside her, suddenly grateful that the sidewalks and lawns of the neighborhood were fairly deserted on this particular day. The last thing either of them needed was for someone to eavesdrop on this conversation and discover something that they shouldn't.
"I've had seven years to get used to all this," he said, trying to gauge her reaction. "I certainly didn't start out to be a hero. Heck, DAD didn't even start out to be a hero. When I found out, I was scared and confused, probably a lot like you are now, but I was very relieved at the same time. You might not know this, but you're the first person in this family that hasn't had to find out the big secret the hard way." That seemed to bring a reaction.
"Dad didn't tell you?" she asked, all her earlier storminess apparently gone for the time being. Jon smiled sadly in response and shook his head.
"I had been experiencing some strange things, and I just happened to look through a wall in time to see Superman get in bed with Mom." Jon smiled as he relived the memory. It was strange how something that had been so traumatic back then almost made him feel nostalgic now. It was a big turning point in his life, and even he had to admit that it was an amusing story. He blinked, bringing himself out of his thoughts, and looked over toward his sister just in time to see the barest ghost of a smile begin to form on her face. She almost seemed at peace for a moment, but only for a moment. Almost as quickly as it appeared, the smile was gone again, replaced by the steely mask that was trademark of enraged teenagers throughout the known world.
"You knew and you didn't tell me," she said, the hurt seeping back into her voice.
"It wasn't my place to tell," he said, knowing full well that it wasn't just an excuse. Even back then he had decided that he wouldn't tell her or CJ. All the things that his dad had said in defense of keeping the secret had made a certain amount of sense to him, and he had agreed that it was worthwhile to keep it to himself, but in a way he knew that his real motivation was that he had wanted more for his brother and sister than what he had gotten. He wanted for them to find out the right way, and he wanted for his dad to have the satisfaction of getting it right just once. He deserved that.
"You're no better than them," she said softly, intensely. "Aren't I a part of this family? Don't I deserve to know? What difference does it make who tells me?" The house was beginning to approach, and the closer it came, the more Jon could feel the anger building in Laura. "I have news for you," she continued. "I don't want to be what you all want me to be. I'm not going to go on being the obedient daughter. If I really mean that little to everyone, then I don't need you."
Ah, the teenage thought process, Jon thought with a sigh. At that age, it always seemed like the world was against you, and even innocent things could be twisted to try and fit that view of things. This was a perfect example. Their father, a man who had always been kind and considerate toward everyone and was never demanding of his children, had voluntarily told her everything. Finally, Clark Kent had been able to tell one of his children about their heritage, and do it in a way that was no doubt carefully thought out in order to be as gentle as possible. Yet, somehow, that all seemed sinister to her. Yes, they had kept something from her, but it was not without good cause. Someday she would see that, but who knew when that day would come? Until then, she seemed to be insinuating that she would be rebelling against all of them, and more importantly, rebelling against who she was. She WAS the obedient daughter, a good kid, but being those things to her meant being under the control of her parents somehow. It was hard to feel obedient or loving or even respectful toward people who had wronged her as much as she felt her parents had, and so the only thing left to do was rebel.
"You can't run away from who you are," Jon said, drawing a dirty look from her. "Maybe you don't want to be the person that you have been, and maybe you don't want to be the super person that you'll eventually become, but that won't make any of the powers and the experiences that they'll bring go away. Just because the people that you trusted kept some things from you doesn't mean that they wanted to hurt you in any way. It also doesn't mean that you knew anyone any less than you did before. Take the time to look around, dig into the archives at the library, view Superman news reports. Take all the knowledge from that and cross reference it with your memories. What major disasters happened on your twelfth birthday that went unattended so that Dad could attend your party?" Jon stopped and took a breath, surprised for a moment at how impassioned his little speech had become. He hadn't set out to defend his parents in any way, but as he had begun to talk, it just came. The memories of his own revelations and discoveries had come flooding back all at once, and along with them came the sense of gratitude and pride that he had felt in his family at the time, which he still felt to this day.
"There are people in that house who love you for who you are, who will always love you no matter what you become or how strenuously you try to push them away," he continued, gesturing to the house, trying to draw at even the slightest hint of understanding from her. "They are also among a select few people on this planet who will be able to understand what it is you'll go through, who can help you every step along the way so that you can master your new gifts without feeling threatened by them. Believe me, there's nothing worse that being afraid of yourself and the harm that you can so easily bring to others by doing something so innocent as looking at them or touching them. There's nothing you can accomplish through rebellion that couldn't be done better by just letting your family help you."
They had reached the foot of the driveway, and Laura seemed as obstinate as ever. As he finished talking, she looked at him again, and he wondered if she had even heard what he had said. "I don't need your help," she said, her voice almost choked. With that, she jogged up the drive, digging around inside the pocket of her jeans as she did. Quickly, she opened the front door and immediately slammed it closed behind her. A quick peek through the walls showed that the tears had started flowing once again, and Jon debated whether or not he should go inside to comfort her, eventually deciding against it. What she needed right now was to be alone, to be able to decide what she really wanted.
With that, he casually walked around the house to the back yard, spinning into the Suit as he reached the trees. With a jump, he was airborne again, headed back toward the Daily Planet to finish the last of his lunch break. In the back of his mind, he worried about Laura, but he was sure that she'd be just fine. Eventually.
Stubborn, Laura thought much later that night. She had been stubborn, and blind, and despite the very valiant effort of her brother, she had refused to see the truth that was so plainly laid out in front of her. If she'd have just looked around like Jon said, she knew that she would've seen the love that her family felt for her, and the concern in their expressions every time that they looked her way. But she hadn't looked, instead deciding to stay mad at them and plow on with her half baked idea of being rebellious. She almost laughed at the notion now, as the cold, harsh reality of everything had come literally crashing down around her. All rebellion ever led to was a whole lot of trouble, and she knew that now. At least she should be grateful that her eyes had been pried open after only a day, before something truly bad had happened, either to her or by her hand. It was strange to think of how she got here, her attitude completely changed, and all in the course of a few hours.
After Jon's departure, she had spent a lot of time in her room, alternatively crying and berating herself for letting him get to her. He didn't know anything, she told herself. Yes, he had been in her place once, more or less, and she supposed that he probably knew what it felt like to be betrayed, maybe even more than she did. But the fact remained that none of the feelings of resentment that he had alluded to were present in him anymore. On the contrary, he had embraced the life their father led, and he had perpetuated the lies and the deception, even going so far as to defend those things, so he had no business lecturing her on morals. Contrasting the arguments her brother had made with her own mental counter arguments, she decided that it was very possible that she was making a lot out of nothing. But that was absurd, she decided. Of course the fact that her father was Superman was a big deal, and of course the upheaval in her sense of self was equally big, and nobody seemed to want to understand that. Until they did, she had no choice but to rebel, right? Right. Of course. It wasn't even a question, really.
Even so, she had felt guilty. It was hard to describe, but sometimes she just got this feeling, a tiny voice from somewhere that told her when something about the whole situation wasn't right. It was related to the feeling of forgetting something, or leaving something behind, but she didn't HAVE anything to forget. That almost sick sense of foreboding had clung to her all afternoon, striking yet another down note on her already dreary day, but she tried her best to ignore it. It didn't do much good, though, and once the crying had finally subsided, she remained in her room, mildly depressed, watching afternoon cartoons and trying to think as little as possible. As her parents had come home, she had pushed them away, denying them entry to her room and, later, ignoring them during supper. For the most part they had left her alone, but it wasn't hard to feel the tensions between them when they were together, and she could just hear their thoughts, condemning her, puzzling over her, maybe feeling upset because of her. She conveniently ignored the anguished words they said to her, the probes into her well being, and continued to convince herself of their maliciousness.
Later that night, after her dad had gone out for his nightly "errands" and her mom had retired to her bedroom, she had snuck out of the house and gone over to Stacy's. The two of them immediately joined Stacy's older sister and another friend as they went to a party out in the country. The ride had been a long one, but it had been a nice departure from her normal evenings spent around the house. She had never indulged in the party invitations that her friend had offered previously, partially because she generally didn't enjoy big parties, and partially because it felt wrong being at a place where underage drinking was going on. But in the midst of her rebellion, her morals seemed to take a hike, and all of a sudden a nice, loud party sounded like a lot of fun.
It felt good to kick back and have some fun, to laugh after she had done so much crying, and to let all her problems fade into the background. For a while, everything went just as she had hoped, and she enjoyed herself, but after about an hour, it all began to look phony and hollow. She tried to indulge in the special punch, but she knew what was in it, and her thirst went away remarkably quickly. She watched as kids that she didn't really know continued to drink, and get drunk, and suddenly seem to find amusement in things that really weren't all that funny. The laughter got raunchier as the night progressed, and the stories more absurd, and Laura found herself wishing that she could just go home. She didn't want to be like this, a sad, lonely soul who had nothing better to do than to waste her teenage years, which could be the most productive of her life, getting drunk. It wasn't hard for her father's words to spring into her consciousness, reminding her that she could only be a kid once in her life. Once the innocence left, it would never come back, and her innocence was the one thing that she was desperately trying to cling to in her current identity crisis. It had never occurred to her before that all this mindless rebellion would take that from her, too. At least at home she felt like she belonged, even if the people around her felt like strangers, as odd as that sounded. At least they loved her. Here…here she was just some pathetic new kid who was too much of a party pooper to join in the escapades. But, she decided, she didn't mind being a party pooper that much. If it meant keeping her self-esteem intact, then so be it.
Late night progressed into early morning, and gradually people began to leave. When Laura's group finally decided to get going, it quickly became apparent that Stacy's sister, the one in the bunch with a license, was in no shape to drive. Stacy, too, was pretty far gone, and in truth, Laura was the only one who was still sober. And that meant that she had to drive. So far, her only experience had been in the park the night before, and those roads were a lot different from the interstates and city streets that she needed to take to get back to Metropolis. She started to suggest that they just stay the night and drive back later, when everyone was better, but nobody wanted to face the consequences that would bring. Parents didn't take kindly to finding empty beds where their children had been the night before, and it tended to lead to police involvement, which nobody wanted. So she drove, albeit slowly and cautiously, on alert for cops or anyone else who might find the sight of a mature-looking 15 year old driving a car suspicious. Much to her relief, the roads seemed fairly deserted, and the drive went without incident. That was, until about a mile before her exit on the freeway.
Throughout the drive, the occasional set of headlights had made their way down the other side of the road, passing by without much concern, like cars on freeways usually did. They weren't anything to be worried about, and Laura felt like her considerable effort would be better suited to other things directly related to her car. Driving on the highway wasn't as easy as it looked, she thought for the umpteenth time, and it didn't help that she had a car full of giggly drunks trying to distract her. She checked the mirrors again and then looked back toward the road, not even seeing the set of headlights that had begun to approach in the oncoming lanes. It was only as they began to near that she noticed that something was wrong. The headlights were angled too much toward her, and they seemed to be closer than any other cars that she had consciously registered that night. The reasons why were a mystery, but suddenly it dawned on her that the headlights were actually pointing toward their car. A split second later, the car was barreling across the median ditch, headed without hesitation right into their path. She yanked the wheel violently, trying to avoid the oncoming car, but all she managed to do was to lose control, and the car swerved wildly as she tried to keep it on the road. All the time, the other car remained on an absolutely straight path, unwavering, and she suddenly realized that they were going to hit, there was no avoiding it.
Time seemed to almost slow down as she gripped the wheel and braced herself for the impending impact. Both cars were going at least 65 miles an hour, so the crash would be horrific, she was sure. A million thoughts flashed through her mind, most of them centered on her family. She was going to die, and they would never know that she still loved them, and that she really did accept them, no matter who or what they were. In excruciatingly slow motion, she watched the car get closer and closer. She didn't care if her dad was Superman, she decided. Closer. But if he were Superman, then maybe… A beacon of hope began to fill her as she filled in the blank. Maybe she wouldn't die. Maybe there was something there already, some of her heritage asserting itself that she had never noticed before. Closer. She didn't get sick much, but she drank a lot of orange juice and took her vitamins, so that could very well be nothing. She didn't get hurt, but she didn't really do anything that would get her hurt either. Closer. Maybe it wasn't certain that she'd survive, but if she did, the first thing she'd do would be to mend her fences with the family.
In that moment a sound came, a sound that was louder than anything she had expected. The fusion of metal on metal, of racing engines and gasoline melding together then viciously contorting, created a roar that was almost deafening. The driver's side began to collapse around her, the steering column heaving up into her chest, a ball of flame exploding outward from the mangled engine block. The car buckled and twisted, the metal groaning and protesting the whole time, before finally coming to a stop. The roar of the engine sputtered and ceased until, finally, it was quiet. It was then that Laura became aware of the pressure that was all around her, pushing in on her from all sides, but oddly, without pain. It was a very claustrophobic feeling, almost like she had been buried alive, and her breath caught for a moment before she realized what it meant. She wasn't dead! She wasn't even hurt, at least she didn't think she was, which meant that she had been right. All of a sudden, she was very grateful for her heritage. But, she realized with a start, just because she was alive didn't mean that anyone else was. She needed to check on them, but at the moment she couldn't move.
Invulnerability was one of the famed superpowers, and if she had one, who was to say that she didn't have more? Super strength would certainly come in handy right now, she thought, and cautiously, she started to apply pressure to the metal that clamped her in place. Gradually, she increased the pressure, to the point that she was straining herself, but to no avail. That particular power must come later, she thought as she settled for any movement she could find. Eventually, she managed to get her head to turn, and she looked at her passengers, all of whom seemed to be quite a bit worse for the wear. Stacy's sister actually appeared to be bloodied, and her friend hadn't been wearing a seatbelt, and was nowhere to be seen. That meant that she had probably been thrown from the vehicle, probably getting seriously hurt in the process. They all needed a doctor, and quickly, but Laura didn't know what she could do. A wave of frustration swept over her before she realized that there was a way to get the help she was looking for, after all.
"HELP!" she yelled as loudly as she could, breaking the silence around her. Stubbornness and a manufactured sense of anger toward her family had gotten her here, but it would be her family who got her out. She just hoped they were out there. She yelled again, inwardly dreading the moment they saw her there, and the horror and confusion that she would see on their faces. They would think the worst of her, she knew, but her rebellious streak was now officially over.
In the skies above Metropolis, Jon crossed his legs and placed his elbow on his knee, propping up his head with his hand. Upon first sight, Metropolis at night from above was beautiful beyond words. Maybe hypnotic was a better word, he thought. There just seemed to be something so pure about the city when all its dirt and grime were hidden in darkness, and all that could be seen was the pristine light from hundreds of thousands of windows and street lamps. Of course, as time went by and his focus was zeroed in on crime and other more earthly things, the beauty just seemed to fade away. It didn't help that his vision allowed for him to focus in on those dark, hidden corners and see all the filth and muck just as easily as if they were illuminated under a giant light. It kind of took the mystery out of things, he supposed, but he wasn't here for mystery or intrigue. Crime fighting, life saving, those were all his missions in life right now, and, well, it was a darn good thing that he didn't need a lot of sleep. Or have a family. Or have any semblance of a social life. Patrolling at night was a lot more fun when his dad was around, but he had gone home a couple hours ago, which Jon supposed was to be expected. After twenty-some years of patrolling alone, it was time for his dad to have a little bit of the break. Unfortunately, that made for some lonely nights.
Evenings weren't so bad, Jon mused as he floated, content to let himself go where the currents carried him. The rush home from work would just be dying down, and kitchens all across suburbia would get fired up, sending wonderful aromas skyward for him to anguish over. The less savory elements tended to take to the street then, praying on the shoppers and bike riders and other people who were out, taking advantage of a warm summer night. That was always a busy time. As evening progressed into night and lights began to turn off all over the city, there was inevitably a big lull in criminal activity. Things did pick up a bit as the bars closed, but after that, he figured he might as well go home, and most of the time he did. But sometimes, the quiet early morning hours would afford him and his dad a chance to talk. They would camp out on top of one of the skyscrapers downtown and talk for hours about subjects ranging from sports to superhero stuff to anecdotes from their younger days. He liked those nights together, and from time to time he wondered if he would've ever gotten to be as close to his dad if he hadn't followed in his footsteps. Hovering in the sky, sitting on skyscraper ledges, these were things that most people couldn't even think of experiencing, but they could, and did, and they took advantage of that. With a sigh, Jon wondered if his sister would ever get the chance to experience that for herself.
He blinked, wondering how his mind had wandered onto that tangent. It was only inevitable, he supposed, since she was the big news item for the family right now. CJ had been so understanding about everything; why couldn't she? He had had a vaguely unsettling feeling all evening, something in the pit of his stomach telling him that all the tension with his sister was going to get worse before it got better. He couldn't imagine how or why, unless she followed through on her earlier anger toward them. Surely she wouldn't tell anyone their secret…wouldn't she? Her neck was on the line if she did, so he didn't think that was it. Maybe she would get herself in trouble trying to prove that she truly did have powers, even though she probably didn't, at least not in more than an elementary capacity. That felt a little closer to the truth, he thought, before shaking his head and banishing the thought.
Jon's eyes scanned the streets below, sweeping back and forth absently, looking for signs of criminal activity but finding none. Dwelling on vague notions was a bad habit, he decided. Whatever Laura had done or would do, he'd know about it sooner or later. Right now, he thought as his eyes caught the clock on a bank building, it was getting to be past his bedtime. The streets were quiet tonight, and the shady elements looked fairly subdued. He began to straighten up and float in the general direction of his apartment when a sound caught his attention. It was that dull crunch of metal on metal, a sound that he had become very familiar with since coming onto the job. This one sounded bad, he thought as he tried to pinpoint the location, all thoughts of bedtime suddenly gone.
The brief orange eruption of a fireball caught his attention, and suddenly he knew where the accident was. He rushed to the site, thoughts of speed and sonic booms far from his mind. His initial assessment had been right, he could easily see as the fire quickly faded away. The crash had been on the interstate, obviously high speed, judging by the destruction of both cars. If either driver were alive, he thought grimly, it would truly be a miracle. As he landed, he took the cell phone out of his outfit, pressing the speed dial for police dispatch as he reached out with his senses to assess the scene. One victim was in the first car, three were in the second, and one was lying on the pavement several feet away. All were alive, a couple of them just barely, judging from their pulse rates. Strangely, it almost seemed like one person was completely unharmed, their heartbeat steady and sure, but he didn't know how that could be. Both cars looked more like crushed tin cans that automobiles, and even backseat passengers couldn't have escaped harm. The unwaveringly strong rhythm that he heard had to be an illusion of some sort. Maybe he was picking up the vitals of someone in a nearby house.
"911 emergency," an operator said over the phone.
"Yes, there's been an accident on the Eisenhower Freeway," Jon said as he walked closer to the cars. He circled around the scene, his mind quickly formulating a plan of action as he talked. "There appear to be 5 injured people," he said, "Some of them teenagers." Jon frowned, smelling the unpleasant aroma of alcohol that hung around both vehicles. It saddened him to see so many accidents caused by drunken drivers, and, in this case, drunken drivers who were still in high school. How many of these horrific accidents did it take before people got the message that they should never mix alcohol and driving?
His thought was interrupted by surprisingly loud yell for help that seemed to be coming from the second car.
"Sir?" the operator asked, and Jon drew his attention back to her, suddenly aware that she had asked him another question. He asked her to repeat it, and they finished their phone call after a few moments, but he spent much of the time staring at the car and the increasingly desolate cries that were coming from it. There was something oddly familiar about the sound of that voice, he thought. It wouldn't be the first time he had rescued someone he knew — that honor had come when he saved an acquaintance of his in high school from a burning high rise a few weeks earlier. Somehow, though, this voice seemed too familiar to belong to someone he hadn't seen in a few years.
Jon pressed the end button on the phone and tucked it back in his pocket, curiously approaching the second car. The cries seemed to be coming from the driver, although how that could be, he didn't know. It occurred to him that the heartbeat that had been so steady only a moment earlier had accelerated, possibly due to excitement. If he was truly picking up on someone from a nearby house, they would still be asleep, wouldn't they? Maybe it was this person, instead.
"Hello?" he said, using his Superman voice.
"Hello? Superman?" the voice said with an almost panicked anticipation.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, not liking the way that the sound of this person's voice was affecting him. It would only take one peek into the car to either confirm or deny the identity of the driver, but for whatever reason, he held back. It had always been his mode of operation to concentrate on the job when he was working, nothing else. When he x-rayed into wrecked cars, he only did so to assess the injuries of the occupants. He never looked at faces if he could avoid it, if only because it was easier that way. The blank looks of pain on victims' faces, the shock fixed in the expressions of those that died, the human side to the tragedies that he plunged into was almost too much to bear sometimes. Every now and then he looked, just to remind himself of why he was there, but for the sake of his sanity, he had to stay detached. Now, though, he wanted nothing more than to see who it was that had somehow lived a miracle, but at the same time, he felt a sense of dread about who he would find there.
"No, no, just get me out of here," she said, and Jon quickly clenched and unclenched his fists, struggling internally with what should be done. There really wasn't any question about whether or not he should tear the door off and get her out. It was just…oh, to heck with it, he thought. Quickly, he looked into the car, purposely keeping his focus away from her face while he assessed her condition. Satisfied that she was indeed okay, he peeled the metal apart, revealing the face of someone who he realized that he had expected to see there.
All the heat seemed to drain from his face as he caught sight of Laura Kent, sitting within a cavity of metal that was perfectly sculpted around the form of her body. "Laura?!" he said, his voice cracking. She wiggled out of the opening he had created, jumping up and throwing her arms around him, sobbing on his shoulder.
"I can't…I didn't…but I still…I'm so glad you're here," she cried, and Jon didn't know what to say. Mechanically, his arm wrapped around her into a comforting embrace, but his mind was spinning. What on Earth was she doing out here at this hour, in the driver's seat of a car? Had she been drinking? The feeling of dread that he had had all evening had been well founded, he supposed, although this certainly wasn't what he had expected. Rebellion was one thing, but if she had done what he thought she had, that was something else entirely. That was serious. That was illegal, for goodness sakes!
Taking a deep breath while her head was on his shoulder, he realized that she didn't hold the acrid smell of alcohol on her that seemed to be everywhere else at that crash site. That might explain what she was doing behind the wheel of the car, but it didn't stop the fact that she had been one of the drivers responsible for the accident. A twinge of pity ran through him as he thought about what she must be going through. Everything right now for her was so new — the fact that her family included Supermen, the driving thing, the adjustment to a new school… In the middle of it all, what had probably started out to be an escape had gone terribly wrong. All the fear and doubt that she had been feeling before were now amplified and twisted, mangled in light of this situation that was much worse than those comparatively petty worries of just a few minutes ago. This time her actions had real consequences for others, and she had to face that and grow up a lot in the process. Jon felt himself become less rigid in her grasp, tightening his arms around her for a moment before gently pushing her away. The confusion and hurt were evident on her face, and it pained him to see them, but he needed to tend to the others that had been injured in the accident. Digging in his pocket, he pulled out his phone as he began to nudge Laura toward the shoulder of the road.
"I'm just glad you're okay," he said in a stage whisper, handing her the phone. "I wish I could stay here and talk to you about what happened, but I have to help your friends," he continued. She sat down on the guardrail, looking down strangely at the phone. "And you have to call home," he finished, before turning and walking away.
"Why do I have to call home?" he heard her ask, an almost fearful quality in her voice. He knew well what she had to be thinking, and in her position he would probably feel the same way. It wasn't often that they saw disappointment in the faces of their parents, but this would be one instance where it would be hard to avoid. It was the type of look that always left him heartbroken, because he knew that it indicated a degree of trust that had had been lost. "I mean, you could take me home, and maybe then…" she continued before trailing off. Jon sighed and stopped in mid-stride, turning back toward her. If she could go home and somehow slip under the radar of their parents, if only for a little while, he was sure that she would. But it would only be delaying a confrontation that was inevitable, one that he knew he had no business being in the middle of.
"I can't take you home like this," he said softly yet firmly, his voice undisguised, fairly certain that any bystanders would be in no shape to notice. His fingers plucked at his spandex top, and he looked at her, his eyebrows raised as he waited for the recognition to come. When none was immediately forthcoming, he went on quickly, impatient to get back to the other victims that needed his help. "That, and there are certain things that have to happen at an accident scene. You will be questioned by the police, you will be looked at by the paramedics, and then, probably after a trip in the back of a squad car to your local police precinct, you will be released to Mom and Dad. I can't just fly you off, no questions asked. It doesn't work that way."
He continued to watch, aware of the brusque tone his speech had taken on in his haste. Laura seemed on the verge of tears, but she continued to look at him, her eyes pleading, until she dropped her gaze to the phone in her hands. "Yeah, I know," she said softly. "Guess I'm just delaying the inevitable. I just don't want to have to look them in the face and tell them that I did this," she said, a tear slipping down her cheek as she surveyed the site for the first time.
A wave of emotion swept over Jon as he watched his sister forlornly gaze at the accident, and the urgency of the situation seemed to slip away yet again. He approached her again, slipping his hand under her chin and cupping her cheek in a comforting, familial gesture. "You can do it," he said, his words drawing her eyes to his. "You're a lot stronger than you think. And if you need anyone, just remember that I'm right here, okay. Believe it or not, I wasn't always a saint. There are a few things in my past that drew late night calls and run-ins with the police."
"Really?" she asked, smiling shakily.
Jon nodded, returning her smile as his memory flashed with the images of one of those late nights. Even straight arrows veered off course every now and then, and he was no different. In high school, he had participated in the senior prank, which unfortunately involved the theft of items around town. In all the years that seniors had been lifting real estate signs and patio furniture from around Metropolis, he was sure that he and his friends had been the only ones ever caught doing it. In retrospect, it hadn't been very smart to take part in the first place, especially knowing that his father was probably up patrolling the city while he was committing his crime. But his experience that night and the ensuing encounter with his folks had been more than enough to swear him off crime for good. Now Laura had to live that, but it would get worse before it got better.
"Go on, call," he said with a nod, drawing his hand away from her face. She nodded back, and he turned away again and got to work on freeing the other victims of the accident. In the distance, the wail of an ambulance could be heard growing closer and closer. Quickly, he started with his task, systematically assessing the condition of each individual patient and making sure it was safe to move them before extracting them from the car. By the time the police arrived, he had all the victims comfortably lying off the shoulder of the road. He stayed to talk with the police and paramedics as everything was attended to, and only after the ambulances began to retreat did he finally wander back toward his sister, who was now surrounded by police. Briefly, he wondered how her miraculous escape from harm would be explained, and he turned back toward the ruined car, wondering if he should make it look like she had somehow been thrown clear. It was possible that she could've been ejected out the front if she hadn't worn a seatbelt, but that certainly would've given head injuries to any normal person. Besides, the time was already past to do such a thing. The police had already made a fairly detailed survey of the site, including the states of the vehicles involved. They would notice an extra hole in the windshield, or anywhere else, for that matter. Maybe she could say that she bailed out of the car before it hit. While it would make her out to be irresponsible, it would certainly take any possible scrutiny about her lack of injuries off of her. Bailing out of a car going 65 miles per hour wouldn't be without incident, he supposed, but if she had done it just right, them maybe it would work.
Jon joined the group around Laura, relieved to find that they were still collecting information from her about the identities of her and her friends. She looked up at him and smiled nervously, and he gave her a nod in return, which seemed to give her a little more confidence.
"What can you tell me about what happened?" the officer finally asked. Laura's eyes went wide, and her mouth opened and shut several times before she looked back toward Jon. Apparently, it hadn't occurred to her that she would need to make a story up to explain why she wasn't hurt. Fortunately, Jon had years of experience, both with covering for himself and with covering for his other family members.
Clearing his throat, Jon drew the attention of the officers. "I saw it happen," he said, drawing a surprised glance from Laura. A twinge of guilt flared up inside of him at the thought of lying to police officers, but he quickly squelched it. Yes, he was taking advantage of his position, and the inherent trust that the police held in Superman, but sometimes there was no avoiding the occasional white lie. It was those white lies that shielded them from the perils of being in the public eye, allowing him and his father to live as normal men even while their alter egos were firmly entrenched in the spotlight. Being able to hold on their privacy and that of the rest of their family and friends was certainly worth bending the truth a little, and he had no doubt that his father would see it exactly the same way.
"Her car was traveling in the far right lane, here, when this other car came barreling across the median. She jumped out of the car before they hit, somehow hitting the pavement and rolling away without injuring herself. That most certainly saved her life," he said, confident that the details of the actual accident were close enough to make his scenario believable. He might not have actually witnessed what had happened, but the clues were easy enough to decipher. A set of tire tracks cut through the soft dirt of the median, leaving a muddy aftermath as they continued across the pavement and into the car Laura was driving. Open containers of liquor littered the interior of the man's car, their contents now splashed across the twisted and broken surfaces.
"Is that how you remember it, Miss?" the officer asked, looking back toward Laura. She had been staring at Jon with an expression of awe on her face, and quickly she neutralized her features as the eyes came back to her.
"Yes," she said, a sudden confidence in her voice. "I don't know what I was thinking, but I just couldn't stay in the car, knowing that it was going to get hit no matter what I did." She continued her story from there, although there wasn't much else to tell. Nothing in her voice would give the officers any reason to think that she was being anything less than truthful, and Jon felt himself somewhat impressed at the ease with which she bent the truth. Maybe it was a practiced skill, but he didn't think that was it. She was just the actress in the family, and she always had been. It was a skill that would certainly come in handy now, especially considering what terrible liars all the men in the family were.
Jon stayed for a while, until, finally, it came time for him to leave. Laura was loaded into a cop car bound for the nearest precinct, and there was nothing more for him to do there. With one last look toward his sister, he took off into the air, bound for his home. His job for the night was done, and he certainly didn't want to be there for what was bound to be an awkward night at his parents' place. If they needed him, they would call, but until then, his bed beckoned, and this time he would be answering the call.
The chair that Laura found herself in at the police station had seen better days, she thought as she wrinkled her nose. It had probably smelled good once, too, but the years of drunks and deadbeats and other criminals who had contempt for the rules of hygiene had taken its toll. A spring poked her uncomfortably from below, but she found herself not fidgeting, not wanting to stir up any of the other smells that lurked in the chair. Didn't the people working around here ever wonder what that funky odor coming from the corner of the office was? Did they even have a janitor on staff?
Laura sighed as she realized that there were much more important things to be dwelling on, no matter how much she wished she could just forget most of them. Certain things stood out in her mind about her experience on the freeway that night, not the least of which was the newfound respect she had for her brother. He was eight years older than her, and it seemed to her that by the time that she had become old enough to maybe want to hang out with him, he had already moved out, bound for college. Even before that, he had been involved in so many extracurricular activities in school that he wasn't around a whole lot, anyway. In her mind, he was just "Older Brother Jon," a generic personality residing in her brother's body. She had thought she knew him, flipping through the picture books, looking at the trophies in his room…seeing his portrait hanging in the hallowed high school halls. But accomplishments didn't make the man, and she was finding that out right now in spades.
He held a lot of respect for their dad, she knew, and he even followed in his footsteps, but now it didn't seem to her like he had done so blindly, or just for the glory of it all. Reading those teen magazines earlier should've made it clear that he hated the attention that being a Superman brought him, but she hadn't seen it until he got to work right in front of her. His face was so much like their dad's, and that made it easy for her to read the emotion borne on it. As he freed her friends from the car, she could see the worry, and the sadness. His arms wrapped gently around each body, cradling it lightly as he floated them to the softer ground at the shoulder of the road. Later, as the paramedics worked on each accident victim, he would check in on them, making sure that they were indeed all right. Caring, compassion, and a cool head in what was a definite crisis had all been present in him that night, and it made her proud to be his sister.
Add to it all the other tidbit of information he had thrown her way. "I'm no saint," he had said, and she wondered what he meant by that. Probably a lonely night in a police station, she thought with renewed curiosity. All this time she had figured that he had been the perfect son in every way — never in trouble, always setting the mark in school, and making his parents proud on a daily basis. Maybe she had been more oblivious that she had thought at home. Then again, she was living under the same roof as Superman for 15 years and hadn't noticed that, either, so missing Jon's character flaws seemed small by comparison. Even so, it made her wonder what other skeletons lurked in the Kent closet. What dastardly deed had her father done in his wild younger days? What crimes had Lois Lane committed in her search for the ultimate story? These were interesting questions, and Laura had a feeling that the answers would be somehow liberating. No longer would she feel like she had such a standard to live up to. No longer would she think that it would be impossible to follow in their footsteps. And no longer would she feel as if she somehow didn't know her family. All the cards would truly be on the table.
The sound of approaching footsteps drew her out of her introspection, and as she looked up, she was greeted by the form of an older man, his hair more gray than not, the wrinkles on his face prominent. He had to be near retirement age, she thought, but at the same time, the way he carried himself almost seemed to be that of a younger man. His attire screamed that he was a cop, even though his badge or gun weren't displayed anywhere. "You're Laura Kent, right?" he asked, and Laura felt herself slump over. This was going to lead to yet more questioning, she was sure. As if the police hadn't already heard her manufactured story enough times tonight.
"Yeah, that's me," she said, aware of how flat her voice sounded. The cop just smiled at her.
"Bill Henderson," he said, taking a seat in the chair next to her, which could've been the twin to hers in more ways than one. He didn't seem to notice the odor, though, and took a sip of his coffee before extending his hand toward her. "I'm an old friend of your folks."
Laura looked suspiciously between Henderson's face and his hand, before finally forcing a smile on her face and shaking it. The smile he gave in return was genuine, and he settled back in the chair, relaxing against the stained fabric. "It's been a long time since I've seen one of your clan in here. I see a lot of your mother in you, but I tell you what, Lois Lane was a damn sight more animated when she was forced into these chairs."
Laura blinked a few times, turning what she knew to be an astonished face toward Henderson. Her mother's aggressiveness was the stuff of legends, but she had never heard stories of illegal acts. "Really?" Laura asked, and Henderson smiled at her again.
"Well, I think she mistook the phrase, 'freedom of the press,' to mean the freedom to break into wherever she pleased to get evidence for a story. All that stopped once she met your dad, but by then it was too late for these poor chairs. I think half the coffee stains on them can be attributed to her, either directly or indirectly."
By the time Bill finished his story, Laura found herself laughing gently. The old detective had a glimmer in his eyes, and something told her that part of his reason for seeing her was to give her ammunition against her mother when the inevitable 'I never did that when I was your age,' speech came around.
"So what are you in for?" Henderson asked, and the laughter immediately became a thing of the past.
"I was in a bad car wreck," she said, her gaze dropping to her hands. "I was driving when I shouldn't have been, after being out of the house when I shouldn't have been, and I got hit by a drunk driver."
"Sorry to hear that, kid," Henderson said, his voice filled with genuine sympathy. "You look pretty good for being in such a bad wreck, though."
She looked up at him, ready to give her rehearsed response, when he winked at her. What was that for, she wondered briefly, but before she could put much thought into it, he was speaking again. "You come from a hearty lineage, I know. Give my best to your folks," he said with a smile as he stood up and started to walk away. Laura felt her mouth fall open, and she immediately snapped it shut. If she didn't know any better, she'd swear…nah. Couldn't be. Still, there was another thing to ask her parents about when she got home.
Speaking of her parents…the main door to the station opened, and she could see her mom and dad walk in, the concern evident on their faces. They approached the front desk and talked with the cop manning it. After a while, the cop pointed toward her, and all heads turned so that suddenly she was the center of attention. She held up her hand and smiled weakly, and watched as they turned to thank the cop, then hurried back toward her. They seemed for all the world like worried parents, as well they should be, but she knew that underneath that concern were questions, lots of them. Accusations, possibly even anger, too. For now it was enough to know that they worried about her, but she'd expect no less. For now, she was glad they were here, to finally relieve her from her stint in the world's smelliest chair, but later… Later was a whole other world, one that would appear sooner that she would ever want. And it was the later she dreaded.
It was safe to say that Clark was used to late nights. Part of being Superman was helping when he was needed, and plenty of nights had passed where he didn't even see his bed until the sun was already peeking over the horizon. Luckily, sleep to him was more of a luxury than a necessity, so he had been able to function on the scattered hour here and hour there of sleep that he could get, at least in his younger years. But then came marriage, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to lie in that bed for eight hours a night with his wife by his side. When Lois was asleep, he would let his mind just drift, and it was amazing what those hours of blissful contemplation would do for him. The late nights still came from time to time, but they became less and less frequent as the call of duty at home took more of his time. Now he had Jon to help him out, but Clark could safely say that he wouldn't miss being out in the dead of night, virtually alone above a sleeping city.
Of course, just because he spent most of his evenings at home didn't mean that he couldn't easily get by keeping the same hours that he had in his youth, a fact that he was very grateful for this particular night. The clock on the dash of the car told had him that it was sometime between 2 and 3 AM as they drove back toward home, Laura sitting silently in the back seat. Lois was in the passenger seat beside him, looking surprisingly awake. She was no stranger to the late nights either, having dragged him along on many a midnight stakeout in their reporting careers, but most of those had been in the years before the kids had come along. It was probably nervous energy keeping her awake right now, something that he could understand very well. Ever since they had left the precinct, she had hardly said a word to him, but she didn't have to. He knew that she was thinking the exact same thing as him, feeling the exact same mixture of fear and concern and anger, and probably marveling at the unreality of the situation. There were still times when Clark felt the need to pinch himself just to convince himself that this wasn't just some sort of paranoid dream.
The downward spiral had started after he had told Laura about his alter ego. He had been gentle and supporting and loving, and everything that he had so carefully planned out had happened; everything, that was, except the reaction he got. In retrospect, he shouldn't have been surprised at how hard she took it, and what a shock to her system it would be. Lois tried to warn him about it, but he had optimistically believed that Laura, who had always been very close to him, would take it all in stride. Naturally, her inner turmoil had caused him to become anxious, but if history had taught him anything, it was that he just had to let her work it out for herself. Jon had found out under much worse conditions, as had CJ, and both of them had turned out just fine, and she would too. Of course, telling himself that and believing it were two different things, and he had to constantly fight the urge to check up on her. When the time was right, he was sure that she would come to him, and until then, he had to wait.
The waiting had continued that night, and it took all his patience to watch Laura retreat to her room once again. He had set his worries aside as he went to bed, allowing Lois to take his mind off things for a while before they finally drifted off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that their daughter was only a room away. The ringing of the telephone brought him out of his slumber, and at first he considered ignoring it. Most of the late night phone calls they got were either crank calls or wrong numbers, and anyone who really needed to get in contact with him knew other ways that were more effective. Still, for whatever reason, he reached out for the phone on the nightstand next to him, sitting up as he drew it toward his ear.
As soon as he heard Laura's voice, all remnants of sleep quickly fell away, and his body tensed up. The phone groaned under the stress of his grip, and he had to force himself to relax as Laura told him where she was and gave him the reader's digest, obviously censored version of what had gotten her there. A million thoughts had shot through his head, not the least of which was to wonder how and why she had gotten into trouble without him knowing. Laura wasn't the deceptive type or the rebellious type. She was a good kid, and good kids just didn't end up in accidents along the highway in the wee hours of the morning on a weeknight. At some point during the conversation, Lois had awoken, sitting up and leaning in next to him to try and hear both sides of the conversation. Her arms had snaked around him as he had asked Laura if she was all right, although he remained oddly unresponsive to her until he heard the words that made the whole situation bearable once again. Unharmed, she said, and Clark had no doubt that that was true in a physical sense, but underneath her words he heard something that made him question how she was mentally. Even so, he found himself relaxing in his wife's embrace, taking no small amount of strength just from the fact that she was there. Even after he hung up the phone, Clark just turned to hold her for a minute in silence, trying to formulate the perfect way to tell her that their daughter was at the police station. There really was no way to tell that to any mother, he decided before pulling away and telling her the news as plainly and simply as possible. In her eyes he could see a certain relief, something that told him that she expected something worse, and in a way, he supposed that her relief comforted him somewhat. It was hard to chase the dark thoughts away, and the images of twisted metal and bodies that he had seen so many times juxtaposed, if only for a moment, with the angelic face of his daughter. But the supportive gaze that Lois gave him reminded him once again of the strength that she infused in him, and it gave him all the motivation he needed to finally get up, get dressed, and face the demons that awaited him at the police station.
It was as they drove toward the precinct that Lois brought up the question that he had been shying away from asking himself, and that was just how they should handle the situation. No, it wasn't the first time they'd had to pick a child up from the police station, but so many things about this time were vastly different than previously. The last couple of days had been emotionally rough for everyone, and even though Jon had tried to smooth things out with her, it hadn't been a success. Something had made her embrace certain things that she had found repugnant before; something had made her become irresponsible, even though she was one of the most responsible kids that Clark had ever met. That something was most likely her newly discovered family secret, and that thought brought Clark more guilt than he could've expected. Indirectly, he had a hand in that accident, in the lives of those people who were hurt because of something Laura did or didn't do. What if he'd told Laura their secret earlier? What if he had been more involved with her after he told her? What if…
Clark felt an elbow poke in him the ribs, starting him out of his reverie. "You're obsessing," Lois said, giving him a knowing look.
A half smile managed to form on his lips before his previous thoughts immediately chased it away. "Why do you think she was out there, Lois?" he asked, the misery sinking into his soul as he finally voiced the question that he was afraid to answer. "What would motivate her to do something like that?"
Lois looked at him carefully, her eyes calculating. Several long seconds elapsed before she finally said anything, the silence in the car becoming heavier with every moment of time that passed. "I know that you feel it's your fault, and I can understand why you would think that," Lois replied. "After all, before yesterday she would never have even considered doing anything that would land her in a situation like this. But whether she found out yesterday, or 10 years ago, or even 3 weeks from now, I still think she would've had the same reaction. She was afraid, Clark, and confused. Finding out such a profound secret causes your whole view of the world to turn on its ear, I ought to know. Maybe what she did was part of an attempt to find herself, or maybe it was the typical teenage response to trauma. In the end, she's the only one who knows, but I would wager that she found out a lot about herself tonight." A smile broke out on Lois's face as she leaned back in her seat. "Of course, I could be completely wrong, but I was an obstinate teenager one time, believe it or not."
"Oh, I believe it," Clark said playfully, even as Lois's words continued to ring in his ears. Maybe Laura really would've reacted the same regardless of when they told her, and he had to admit that Lois would know the thought process of a teenage girl a lot better than he would. But accidents took place during a single, gruesome moment in time, and if the same thing had happened only a week earlier, and if Laura had had occasion to be on that interstate at the same time of night, then that other driver wouldn't have been there to cross the center line. Timing was everything here, and a moment in time that he had chosen to tell her, one that he considered to be nearly perfect at the time, was now tragically wrong. Because of that, there was no mistaking his role in this accident.
"But you're still not convinced," Lois said, drawing Clark away from his introspection once again. He became aware of the fact that a frown had formed on his face once again, giving Lois every reason to believe that his thoughts were contrary to the teasing that she had just tried to instigate.
"No, I'm not," Clark said with a sigh, his hands tightening around the steering wheel. A quick glance back at Lois revealed an exasperated expression that he was very familiar with. They could explain their reasoning for thinking the way they did until the cows came home, and it wouldn't stop the fact that Lois would invariably think that he was exaggerating his role in this, and he would steadfastly believe that, if anything, he was understating it. These arguments happened at least once a month, and she was usually right, yet he still tried to take responsibility for everything, that's just who he was. Guilt was a powerful emotion, and even though he had accepted his limitations years ago, there was always that core belief that unless he had done everything he could, then somehow he hadn't done enough.
The evening was uncomfortable enough without his obsessive attitude making it worse, he decided. Maybe his fears would be assuaged when he talked with Laura, or maybe he could find a way to do right by the families of the kids who had gotten hurt. In any case, despite her strong face, Clark knew his wife enough to know that she wasn't as confident about their trip to the police station as she let on. She needed his comfort as much as he had needed hers earlier, and together, they needed to be strong for the sake of their daughter. "I'll concede that this isn't the time for my worries, though," he said with a smile as he reached out for her hand. The police station loomed close, and the question at hand still hadn't been answered. Just what were they going to do with their daughter?
Lois rewarded him with a grateful grin, giving his hand a firm squeeze. "No, this is a time for Laura," she said, completing his train of thought. "We have to show her that we love her no matter what, we have to guide her through whatever crisis led her to do what she did, and we have to let her know that if she does anything even remotely similar to this, that she won't been seen anywhere outside of her bedroom for at least a month. You can demonstrate to her the effectiveness of your vision gizmo, too, just so that she knows what she's up against."
Clark couldn't help but give a soft chuckle in response. Leave it to Lois boil the situation down to its bare bones. "Hell hath no fury like a mother dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to pick up her kid at the station," Clark said, drawing a smug look from his wife. It was then that they finally pulled into the parking lot, parked the car, and got out. They walked hand in hand, their minds set toward one singular purpose as they entered the station.
After talking to the desk clerk, they were immediately pointed toward Laura, who sitting in the ancient chairs toward the back of the precinct. For a very brief moment, Clark had a flash of memory, a picture in his mind of a much younger Lois sitting in those chairs, the look on her face making it clear to one and all that she would mow down the next person to ask her a question. A smile formed on his lips as he remembered, before he brought his mind back to the present, and his daughter, who certainly could've been mistaken for a younger version of his wife. Her expression, though, was a far cry from the indignation and exasperation that Lois had worn in the same position. Her eyes looked a little too large, and a little too red. As she caught sight of him, he could also see a sense of foreboding, which was only natural. She didn't know if they would be mad at her, relieved because she was all right, hurt because she disobeyed them, or a combination of all of the above, and she didn't know what they would do at first sight. That should be a silly question, he thought as he walked up to her and embraced her tightly. Lois took her turn next. As she pulled apart, the stood there, just looking at each other for a few moments, communicating without having to say a word. They spoke in raw emotion, in facial expressions that were impossible to conceal to family members. All the things that he had supposed she had feared in him were there, Clark knew — the anger, the relief, the sadness, the grief; and he knew that she could see them. Laura looked away from them finally, a tear forming in the corner of her eye and slowly tracking down her cheek. She had never really been in trouble, and had never really had to face the full brunt of how her actions affected those around her, and that was catching up to her now. But the fact that she cared so much, the fact that his pain and Lois's pain became her pain meant that she really hadn't changed at all, that she was still the same Laura that he had always known.
"Come on," Clark finally said as he placed his hand on Laura's shoulder. Lois reached out to take his other hand, and together, the three of them walked out of the station as a unified family, safe in the knowledge that above everything else, there was love. It conquered the pain and the anger and the hard feelings, and allowed them to work things out. They would probably need that love in the hours to come, because there was still work to be done. The questions would be painful to ask, and probably just as painful to answer, but they would have to be confronted, and he would prefer it to be sooner rather than later. Then just maybe things could go back to the way they were.
When did the couch begin to feel like a prison, Laura wondered as she watched her parents take a seat on either side of her. Last night had been bad enough, but now… There would be no turning toward brainless teen dramas for escape, and there would be no chance for any quiet introspection. There would be questions and painful answers, and many feelings would be bared that were much safer bottled up. If there was one thing that bothered her more than anything else, it was the prospect of seeing them saddened because of her, seeing the look of exasperation or disapproval shot at her all because she had been so dumb as to think that acting out would help her somehow. As strange as it sounded, she had never considered that her act of rebellion would hurt them in any way. If they were so crass as to keep her in the dark about such important things as the fact that she was half alien, then they surely couldn't have any ambivalent feelings toward her rebellion. In her mind, they lost the ability to care the moment they deceived her, but she knew now what a misconception that had been. If anything, they worried about her more, and while that felt very comforting in a way, it also made her feel terrible for ever doubting them. They way they looked at her now, the concern evident on their faces above anything else, told her everything that she ever needed to know about them. These were the parents that she had always known, and she should've never questioned that.
"So what happened tonight, exactly? I want to know your second by second actions, I want to know your thoughts, and I want to know all the gory details that the cops will never know about," her Mom said as she crossed her arms across her chest in a particularly mom-like gesture. Her expression said that there would be no arguing, and prior experience told her that she would settle for no less than the complete truth. Maybe it was some sort of reporter's instinct, or maybe just years of parenting experience, but both her parents seem to know instinctively when she said anything that was even a slight bit dishonest. It didn't matter how talented an actress she was, or even if she'd somehow managed to convince herself that the lies she told were truth, they would expose her every time, and she knew it. At least those cops didn't have that same sixth sense tonight, or she might be in even worst trouble that she already was.
She began to relate her tale in its entirety, her eyes focusing unseeingly on some distant point as the events began to replay themselves in her mind. It was hard to talk about, if only because the experiences were still so raw, but as she began to speak, her hesitancy fell away, and suddenly she found that she was talking almost too fast to be understood. All the things she couldn't tell the police, all the thoughts that had driven her, all the feelings that had clouded her judgment, all of it came at a furious pace, until she came to the time of the accident. Abruptly the stream of words ended as she mentally saw those headlights coming at her all over again. Experiences like that lingered in the memory mostly as a series of flashes — images, feelings, sounds — all disjointed, all very brief, even if the accident seemed to take an eternity. How could the incredible pressure of the metal against her, molding and forming, melting and hardening around her body be put into words? And what about the anguish of knowing that her friends were there, hurt, but that she couldn't do anything about it? Eventually the words came, slowly, deliberately, and probably inadequately, but she said them, and she did so without shedding a tear.
Her voice trailed off as she reached the end, and she brought her focus back to her parents. The story had been rather thorough, if not a little devoid of her true rationale, but she thought it had been what they asked for. She expected to see their expressions awash with sympathy and understanding, and maybe pride at the fact that she had managed to find the inner strength to do what was right. But instead of the soft expressions she had expected, she received stares that were very much like they had been before she had managed to say anything. Even with all the detail she had given, something had evidently been missing. The feeling of accomplishment that had been forming inside of her was roughly pushed away as the questions began to come.
"Why did you even go out there in the first place?" her dad asked, a strangely pleading look in his eyes that she hadn't noticed before. No, she thought, not pleading. It was guilt that she saw, and she had to pause for a moment as she tried to digest what that meant. Why would he feel any guilt? Her question was answered even as she asked it, and her heart lurched as she realized the weight that he had put onto himself as a result of all this. For whatever reason, she had assumed that her folks were just concerned about her welfare, but they were also concerned about everyone who might've been hurt as a result of what she had done. Her actions had obviously been motivated by what she had found out about yesterday, what her father had told her in the woods, or, more precisely, by the fact that he hadn't told her about it before. It was easy to see, then, why he would feel guilty, and she had no doubt that she would feel the same if she were in his position. The problem was that it really wasn't his fault, and she needed to let him know that.
Her mouth opened and closed twice in quick succession as she formulated her response, trying to frame it so that she could protect his feelings. For whatever reason, though, the gift of composition that should've been a birthright of hers, one that she had fully expected to receive even from her youngest years, hadn't exactly manifested itself yet, and every approach she tried to take just seemed to confirm that guilt she saw in her dad's eyes. "I guess I was trying to run away from myself," she finally said, borrowing a phrase that her brother had quite appropriately used that afternoon.
Her dad gave her a small nod, urging her to continue on. Laura favored him with a grimace that was meant to be a smile and dropped her head. She had carefully tiptoed around her true motivations earlier, maybe because she was afraid to admit to herself just what it was that she felt. Even after everything that had happened, and all the issues of trust that she had finally worked out for herself, the question of why was one that she stayed safely away from, until now. Saying those words, finally admitting that she had, in fact, been running, no matter how cowardly that was, felt better than she thought.
"I didn't know what to do or think anymore, and maybe it was an attempt to distance myself from the life I had thought I had known, but I just had to get away," she said softly, the emotion finally creeping into her voice. "I mean, I used to think I knew exactly where I was going to go and what I was going to do with my life. I used to actually think that my life was boring, and deep down I'd yearn for some excitement to come along. When it finally came, though, I guess I found that I wasn't as ready for it as I thought, and I panicked. The closest I've come to fear before was watching the late night horror movies on cable with my brothers, so I didn't know how to handle myself, and in the end I just decided to run away." She ended her speech with a shrug, turning her face back up to meet theirs.
"And what about now?" her dad asked, the guilty look not entirely diminished, but shoved into the recesses by a growing expression of understanding. He could appreciate what it meant to have his future transformed in front of his very eyes, she knew. He was young once, and much like her, he'd had to grow into his powers. But he hadn't had the advantage of knowing anyone else who'd gone through the same thing he had, and that probably made the experience a thousand times worse. Couple that with the fact that he lived in the middle of an area where everyone knew everyone else, and where there really wasn't any place to run to, and she could only imagine how hard it must've been. She found a great sense of pity welling up inside of her as she continued to look at him, wondering how it was that he had found the strength to keep going, indeed to become Superman, a hero to millions and, when you got right down to it, one heck of a normal person. Even knowing what he'd gone through himself, though, he still blamed himself for the confusion and pain that she felt under the same circumstances, something that made her want to do nothing more that lean over and hold him until all of those guilty feelings went away. She couldn't do that, though; it wasn't that easy. And she still needed to answer his question.
"In retrospect, in those horror movies, every time the girl ran away, something bad seemed to happen to her. Getting crushed by the car called life was enough to make me see that running away is never the answer." She paused, knowing that there was something else that had to be said. With a deep intake of breath, she continued on.
"The fact is, I should've died tonight." The corner of her eyes began to mist up as the steely control she had once held on her emotions began to fail her. "I was so busy feeling sorry for myself, or hating you for giving me gifts that I didn't want, that I guess I didn't really care who I hurt. Then the most ironic thing happened — the powers that I didn't want became the very things that saved my life. Someone upstairs has a sense of humor, I think." As a tear broke lose and began to track down her cheek, a smile finally formed on her face, drawing a similar reaction from her parents.
"So what have you learned from all this?" her mother asked, her face serious once again, and Laura swallowed hard. She already knew what they wanted her to say, and it involved the standard things — that she shouldn't be sneaking off in the middle of the night, that she should trust them, that running away was never the answer, blah blah blah, but she'd already said as much, and they knew it. Giving them the standard, generic answers just seemed wrong at this place and time. They'd seem so shallow and hollow when compared to the deep, personal feelings that she had been expressing, and besides, they wouldn't tell the whole tale. There was one thing that she learned, though, that could cover all those bases.
"I learned never to question the value of family," she said, summarizing her feelings into one short statement. Family had come through for her in many ways, even after she had tried to push it away, and she knew they always would. She smiled broadly, expecting a similar response from them, but meeting with nothing but raised eyebrows.
"Well, yes, family is important, and I'm glad that you know you can trust us, no matter what happens," her father said, giving her a reassuring smile. "But you've learned some more specific lessons, too."
She nodded in response, acting as if that was obvious, but wondering what, exactly, he meant. Apparently her confusion was more evident that she thought.
"You've learned that you can't handle everything by yourself," her dad said, and suddenly it felt like a great spotlight had been thrown over the whole situation, finally allowing her to see all the things that she missed. She had been so engrossed in straightening out her identity crisis that she forgot about the other lesson that came her way tonight. Leave it to her dad to see something like that. How many times did he have to go in and clean up the messes made by someone who tried to do something that they shouldn't, or that they couldn't, situations that could've been averted if that person had only bothered to ask for help. The issue of drunken driving was much the same as those, and while she thought that she had been doing the noble thing in driving her friends home, the truth was that she was in no position to do it herself, either.
"When you found that your friend was too drunk to drive, you should've called an adult with a valid license who could drive you home. You should've called us," he said, even as she realized the same thing for herself. His words were gentle yet firm at the same time, and altogether fatherly, too. If she had any lingering doubts about his love for her, or her value to either of them, then she didn't need to anymore.
"I'm just glad that you were able to survive in order to learn that lesson," he continued, his voice softer now, almost haunted. His eyes burned with an unknown emotion, one that was dark and intense, one that she would give anything to never have to see again. "If you do nothing else with the special things that were given to you, it won't matter, so long as I know that they were there to keep you safe tonight. That is my gift to you."
In that moment, with her eyes locked into her father's, she couldn't help but feel grateful that she had been born into this family, to be supported by these wonderful people. The dam broke and the tears came as she truly pondered the meaning of her father's words. His gift to her, the gift of a second chance at life, and she would do her best to make the most of it. She leaned in and rested her head on her dad's shoulder, feeling at peace finally as his arms wrapped around her in an embrace, one that still felt safe, one that made her feel more loved than she had felt in a long time.
Her mother's hand came to rest on her shoulder, offering another measure of comfort. "You never have to live up to anything here, sweetie," she added, putting the final explanation point on the whole ordeal. The idea of being part of the family legacy, of meeting the expectations put on her by teachers or parents or brothers was one of the things that had led her to rebel in the first place, but she should've known better from the start.
As the tears cleared up and the emotions finally came to a rest, Laura felt suddenly very tired. She couldn't hold back a yawn that seemed to wrack her entire body, and a quick glance up at the clock revealed why. It was almost 5 AM, and the sun should be lighting the eastern sky any time now. It had been ages since she had seen the sun rise, and while she had a brief urge to ask her dad to take her to see it, the urge to go to bed was much more overpowering.
"Why don't you go get some sleep?" she heard her dad say through the haze that was developing in her mind, and she could only nod in response. Slowly, she rose to her feet and headed toward the stairs, fully intent on stumbling into her bed fully clothed, but then she remembered something.
"Can I go visit my friends at the hospital in the morning?" she asked, finding the energy to be alert yet again. Looking expectantly back toward the living room, she saw her parents look at each other, smile, and then look toward her. "Sure, we can go whenever you get up. And don't worry about class," her mom said, and that was enough to coax a smile out of her. The energy that had fueled her for that brief moment began to fade, and she turned toward her room again, content. It would feel good to let herself be enveloped by sleep, but it felt even better to belong once again.
Out of the darkness came a blur of colors, green and faded yellow, brown and blue, all flashing in front of her at a dizzying rate. She forced her eyes to try and focus on what she was seeing, but she found that she couldn't, at least not totally. She thought that maybe she could make out a lake, or a line of trees, or infinite rows of cultivated crops, but these images were only captured for a second before being replaced by new ones. Gradually, she came to the realization that what she saw was the landscape flashing by below her, as if she were flying above it at a high rate of speed.
With a start, she looked up and saw Superman flying in front of her. His red cape flapped wildly in the wind above the blue spandex of his suit. He seemed to be carrying something or someone in his arms, but he was far enough ahead of her that she couldn't see. In front of him, the sky was a pristine blue, with not a cloud to be seen. The wind that whipped her father's cape barely touched her face, feeling like nothing so much as feathers lightly tickling her cheeks. The temperature was neither too warm nor too cool, even though the air at the altitude they were flying at should be freezing.
"I'm thinking of something that starts with the letter 'C'," came the voice of her brother CJ from beside her. Her head snapped around, and she felt her eyes go wide at what she saw. CJ was gliding on his back through the air, relaxed and easy, dressed in some odd amalgamation of a costume. A blue baseball cap rested backward on his head, a small S-shield embroidered right above the band. His arms were folded back so that his fingers were entwined behind his head, just below to bill of the cap. A blue and red football jersey with a large, yellow number one on the front, a pair of jeans, and tennis shoes rounded out his ensemble. Next to him, Jon flew along on his stomach, his expression very stern and super, the exact opposite of his brother's perpetual smirk. He looked very proper decked out in the black and red Crimson Superman outfit that she had seen him in earlier. Side by side, they represented the two ends of the spectrum in a way that was a caricature at worst, an exaggeration at best. But maybe that was how they wanted it, she thought. CJ would want an identity all his own, and that outfit of his certainly separated him from the rest of the super family.
"You know, this was fun when we were five, but now…" Jon said, breaking out of his stern demeanor to give CJ a dirty look that seemed entirely out of place for someone wearing the spandex and the S.
"What, you're too super to play twenty questions? Come on, we're all up here together. Besides, it wouldn't kill you have a little fun every now and then."
"Okay," Jon said with a sigh as he turned his face back toward the blue patch of sky in front of him. "Is it an animal?"
"No," CJ said, with a crooked smile. He crossed one of his legs over the other, heightening the illusion that he was lying on some invisible couch.
"Is it a plant?" Jon asked, his voice flatter than before.
"Nope." Laura had enough control of herself to roll over on her side and get a better look at the action. This was an old game between those two, anyway. Many a family vacation went by with Jon and CJ playing 20 questions in the back seat of the car. It would usually start out fairly harmlessly, but then…
"Is it a colossal waste of time?" Jon asked with a note of irritation. "That starts with 'C'."
CJ reached out and gave Jon a glancing blow on the shoulder. It was the type of gesture that was only meant to make the barest of contact, and certainly wasn't meant to cause any harm, but in the hands of the right person it could be really annoying. And CJ was that right person. "NO," he said sarcastically. "Why do I get the feeling that you're not taking this seriously?"
Jon gave CJ another dirty look, then returned his glancing blow with a hit hard enough that Laura could hear the thwack of skin on skin clearly. Her brothers looked for all the world like the men they were, but they were sure acting a lot like the irritating teenagers that she remembered from years ago.
"Well, genius, I'm NOT taking this seriously. Your detective skills astound me," Jon said. His voice had taken on a taunting quality, which was in stark contrast with the Jon that she had seen only a few hours earlier.
"Ow," CJ said as he clutched at his shoulder. He looked almost sulky now, and his lower lip was threatening to emerge and send him into a full pout. Yes, Laura thought, the developing fight was beginning to sound a lot like something that actually happened on a particular family vacation. Ribbing led to sarcasm, annoyance, and fisticuffs, and then, just as it began to get out of control, there always came the ultimate warning to set them straight.
"Don't make me have to come back there," her father's voice came on cue from in front of them, his tone making it entirely clear that he would be back there in a second if they ignored him. Having him make threats was one thing, having him follow through on them was entirely another, and the few times that they had been dumb enough to prompt that to happen, it had truly been an awesome sight to behold. CJ raised his eyebrows and smirked at Jon, daring him to do anything further, but Jon just stuck his tongue out, then smiled in triumph before turning his attention back toward the sky in front of him.
The game had gone Jon's way, and the defeated look that formed on CJ's face meant that he knew it. He stared absently at the sky behind him for a few moments, then looked directly at Laura for the first time. Up until that second, she had felt like she was some sort of invisible outside observer, but apparently she was really there after all. She broke eye contact with him, looking down at herself with renewed curiosity. One of the things that she had found herself wondering about just before she had gone to sleep the previous night was what she would wear if she were to become a superhero, but the thought had slipped away as she fell into dreamland. Now, though, she found herself donning a form-fitting red spandex jumpsuit, with a yellow 'S' on her chest and blue accents, including a pair of boots with almost stiletto height heels. Just the thought of having to walk in those made her ankles groan in protest and the balls of her feet burn, but the more she thought about it, the more that she thought it might not be such a pain after all. She was invincible, right? Still, she was decently tall and not overly fashion conscious, and she couldn't imagine why she would choose such a thing to wear, unless it struck fear into the hearts of criminals or something, which was a distinct possibility. Who would want to be at the business end of a four inch heel, really?
"Hey Laura," she heard CJ say as she pondered the benefits and drawbacks of heeled boots. "Do you want to guess what I'm thinking of? It starts with the letter 'C.'"
Laura looked up, somewhat startled. She had always been considered too immature to play this game with her brothers before, even though she knew that she would've been more than able to pull her own weight. "Sure," she said giving him a smile. His face immediately lit up, and he gave her his undivided attention. "Is it something you can wear?" she asked him, picking up where Jon left off. It wasn't the most conventional question, she supposed, but considering her recent train of thought, it made perfect sense. Besides, there were plenty of clothing items that started with the letter C.
CJ nodded in confirmation, signaling her to continue. That was remarkably easy, she thought, then shrugged it off. "Is it a RING?" she asked, but the last word came out as a sound. Her eyebrows knit together as she wondered where on earth that came from. She had been thinking of a cape, or a cummerbund maybe, but not an abstract sound, and certainly not a ring. That didn't even begin with C! "Is it a RING?" she asked again, testing herself, but with the same result. The sound that came out of her mouth sounded more and more like a telephone, come to think of it. Weird. For whatever reason, though, CJ didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. He just looked at her and smiled in anticipation of her next answer, even though she had more or less given one.
The sound of a ringing telephone came again, but this time nobody had to say it. For a moment, she wondered what a telephone was doing at 20,000 or so feet in the air, but as the thought formed in her mind, her surroundings began to fade away. By the fourth time the phone rang, she was become aware of the fact that she wasn't in the air at all, but safe in her bed at home, just where she had always been. A groan escaped her as she rolled over and looked at her clock, nothing the unusually late hour.
It felt good to lie in bed, she thought as she let her eyes droop closed again. Today was definitely a good day to sleep in late, especially considering everything that happened the night before, but as she pondered slipping back into a more pleasant dreamland, the odor of bacon came to her attention. It was rather faint, but it was there, taunting her, practically pushing her out of bed. An actual, home-cooked breakfast was such a rare thing at her house, but somebody had been in the mood to make some this morning, and suddenly she found that her mouth was watering. Where there was bacon, there were usually eggs and pancakes too, with sticky maple syrup and a nice big glass of milk.
Her arm reached out and pulled back the covers, and without a second thought she was up and out of the door. It occurred to her that it might be a good idea to at least run a comb through her hair, or put on a robe to hide her well-worn pink pajamas with gray kittens all over them, but one second thought, she decided that it wasn't necessary. Her parents had undoubtedly seen her in infinitely more embarrassing situations, and they didn't hold it against her. Nonetheless, she ran her fingers through her hair in an attempt to get out the worst of the knots. As she made her way leisurely down the stairs, she heard the sound of her mom's voice over the gentle sizzling of food, and for a brief moment, she wondered if the purpose of the impromptu breakfast might be to welcome a guest. The thought caused a shimmer of terror through her before she dismissed it, remembering the ringing of the phone that had woken her up to begin with. Just to be cautious, thought, she came to a stop as she reached the bottom of the stairs and peaked around the corner into the kitchen.
On the far side of the room, her dad was standing in front of the stove with his back turned away from her, tending to a couple of different pans, even as a stack of pancakes sat on a plate on the counter beside him. Her mother was sitting at the table, a copy of the Daily Planet folded neatly on the table in front of her, and the portable phone held to her ear. There wasn't a stranger to be seen, no visitors or relatives from out of town. There was only an almost hypnotic scene of domestic tranquility, the type of thing that could be seen in safe and loving homes everywhere, the type of thing that almost seemed to be straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. She couldn't believe that this was what she had been so suspicious of during her rebellion. There was no subversive undertone here, no illusions that this was anything other than what it was, and no attempt to make her do anything that she didn't want to. If anything, it was an attempt to somehow comfort her, she realized. Her folks weren't dressed for work, even though they should've been. No, they were home for her, to support her in any way that she needed to, probably to answer some questions that she would undoubtedly have after a good night of sleep and a chance to think. That was love, and that was the type of thing that she would expect from the parents that she had known all along. For a moment she was content just to watch everything happening and ponder what it meant.
A shift in her weight made the floorboard squeak beneath her feet, and suddenly there were two sets of eyes on her. "You're just in time," her dad said with a smile as he finished preparing the food. Jarred out of her introspection, she got to work in helping in any way she could, and with her dad, she moved their feast onto the table and began to dig in. After a few moments, her mom hung up the phone and joined them, but not without a long, pained look toward the food in front of her.
"My arteries are screaming at me to just say no to all this and dig into a nice, healthy grapefruit," her mom said with one eyebrow cocked. She regarded the bacon with the largest amount of suspicion, no doubt estimating up the number of sit-ups she would have to do to compensate for any indulgence. Laura stopped in mid-bite, briefly pondering the health consequences of bacon and eggs and pancakes, but she immediately dismissed them. It was odd, but she had never had to worry about how much of what she ate, although she never let on to her friends that that was the case. She knew girls that ate nothing but salads in order to look like the supermodels they see in magazines and on TV, but she could maintain her figure even though she had an admittedly obsessive relationship with chocolate ice cream. So why worry about breakfast?
"What fun is that?" her dad asked with a playful tone in his voice that had been notably absent for the last couple of days. He looked up at Laura with a glint in his eye, before turning his focus to her mom. "You only live once," he continued, conspicuously taking several slices from the platter, bringing a smile to her face.
"I know," she said with a long-suffering sigh. This time, the look she gave the stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes was an almost longing look, but in the end, Laura could tell that her decision was made. Her face morphed into a teasing smile as she stood up and headed toward the refrigerator. "But just because you think some unhealthy foods are consumable doesn't mean that I should eat them. Don't forget that I've seen you swallow C-4 before, buster, and that probably would be better for my waistline than that," she said, pointing to his plate.
"Well, C-4 is pretty low in calories, and the ones that are there burn off rather quickly," he quipped, making it evident that his sense of humor was back to stay. "But it has such an acrid aftertaste, I can't say that I'd recommend it for breakfast. Besides, bacon goes better with pancakes."
"Right," her mom said with a smile as she reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a grapefruit. Considering the subject matter of the conversation, Laura knew that she should be looking at them with awe and wondering how they could talk so normally about something that was absurdly abnormal. But after being forced to face the reality of her family, she found that she wasn't the least bit uncomfortable with the subject. No, she couldn't imagine her dad shoving a bomb in his mouth, but she didn't doubt that he had at one time or another, and that was okay. The most profound thing about the whole situation was that they felt comfortable enough to joke about it with her around. It almost made her wish that she could've been let in on everything earlier.
Her dad took a bite of bacon and leaned in toward Laura. "I guess it's just you and me, kiddo," he said, pushing one of the trays toward her. There was enough food there for a family of four, and she could feel her eyes go wide as she once again pondered the nasty things that eating her half would do to her.
"I don't know," she said, but he just winked at her. She couldn't help but think that there was some sort of lesson to be had here, something that her dad was trying to tell her, but for the life of her, she couldn't think of what it was.
"Better pitch in or your dad will eat it all," her mom said as she dug through the silverware drawer for a spoon. Laura looked toward her dad, and the smug expression on his face, and suddenly had no doubt that it was the truth. Her eyes wandered down to his arms and chest, wondering how is was that someone without an ounce of fat on their body could do such a thing. Then again, maybe it was the same way that she could eat enough chocolate ice cream to make investing in Hagen-Das stock a wise move.
Her eyes narrowed into slits as a revelation threatened to burst through, but the morning haze over her mind prevented any rational thought from completely forming. As she looked up, she could see her parents looking at her with anticipation, but after looking at each other in silence for a few long, frustrating moments, she shrugged and shook her head.
"Forget the flying and x-ray vision, I have no doubt that your most useful power is that metabolism of yours," her mom almost conspicuously said as she sat back down at the table. She cast one last longing glance toward the rest of the food before finally going to work on her grapefruit. After a moment she looked back at Laura, who was still staring wide-eyed at the bounty in front of her. "If I were you, I'd make good use of it," she said, her tone light. "Grapefruit can't be as bad as C-4, but I'm sure it's close."
"Don't bet on it," her dad said under his breath, drawing a chuckle from her mom, but Laura felt reality phasing out for a moment as the full realization of what she was being told began to come to her. If her dad could eat like he was going to eat, and if he would still look as trim and fit as he did right now, that really would be a useful thing. A wild scenario came to her mind, the idea that she could eat almost anything and not gain any weight, or have it hurt her adversely in any way. She could eat pizza and hamburgers and French fries for every meal and not have to worry about it. She could try all the foods that made her arteries scream in protest, she could even consume explosive devices apparently, although she couldn't figure out why she would want to do such a thing. Did her body really work that way? Maybe there was only one way to find out.
"Are you telling me," she started, drawing the attention of her parents. She pointed at all the food around her, waving her arm in one broad sweep across the table. "I can…and I won't…" Her lack of eloquence in the morning hours was a bit frustrating, but apparently her point was made, because both of her parents started nodding in unison.
"Good thing for you, or all that ice cream of yours would've gotten the better of you years ago," her mom said matter-of-factly. She looked back down at her grapefruit and started poking at it with her spoon before continuing. "Believe me, that's one battle I've been fighting for years."
For as long as Laura could remember, she had known her mom had a sweet tooth, but it was rare that she saw her act on it. It was really too bad, too, because Laura seemed to have some fairly profound thoughts while working on a tub of rocky road, ones that would be nice to share with someone else who would understand, someone like her mom. They could talk at other times, though, times when her mother wouldn't feel as if she was being left out.
Laura blinked and looked at her mom as that thought came to her mind. Her eyes were somewhat far away as she ate her breakfast, although a pleasant half smile remained on her face. What had plagued Laura ever since she had found out about her heritage was the ever present reality that, although she didn't feel any different than anyone else, she was, or at least she would be. It was never easy being the odd one out, but that was what she had become, except when she was at home. Under this roof, she had her dad and her brothers to confide in whenever the inevitable happened and she developed her powers. They knew what it was she was going through, and they could guide her through it. Her mother, however, was the odd one out here. In a way, she was almost handicapped compared to them, and certainly more fragile, although if anyone told her that she would deny it to her dying breath. As far as mere mortals went, her mother was a force to be reckoned with, but here… Here, she was left with the grapefruit while they ate the less healthy foods. As she continued with her meal, Laura vowed that she would make sure to have some normal time with her mother.
The rest of breakfast was rather mundane, and much to her surprise, Laura found that she had eaten her share of the food rather easily. After finishing up and doing the dishes, the outside world beckoned, and she forced herself to be torn away from the happy family atmosphere that she had only recently stopped taking for granted. Joking around with her parents, trading little secrets with them and reliving past experiences was a lot of fun, but what awaited them was not something to joke about. The next stop was the hospital, and her wounded friends. All things considered, she would rather stay at home, but she was the one who had suggested the trip in the first place. Visiting her friends was just the right thing to do, no matter how much anxiety she felt as the time to leave approached.
The trip to the hospital was no different than any other car trip, with the small talk about the weather and the state of the world as they traveled through the mid-day city traffic, but in the back of Laura's mind was a sense of dread that only seemed to grow as they got closer and closer to their destination. As she chatted with her parents about the politics of the Metropolis city council and about the droughts in the Midwest, she couldn't help but wonder what it was that she was going to see when she arrived to visit her friends. Would they be strapped to ventilators, in a deep coma? Would they be swollen and bandaged and unable to talk, or would they be alert and have only cosmetic damage? Worst of all, what would they say to her when given the chance? The mental anguish that she had put herself through over the whole incident was bad enough, especially when coupled with her family situation and the added responsibility that gave her. But seeing the look in their eyes, that spark of blame, that unspoken knowledge that she had been responsible for all the suffering they had gone through, that would be worse than anything else.
Pulling up to the parking lot, her stomach seemed to clench up, and the breakfast she had eaten began to sit very heavily. She had been the one that had asked to come here, but suddenly she wanted to be anywhere else. The urge to slink back into her seat and stay there was very strong, and as the car came to a stop, she almost yelled to her dad to keep driving. Her mouth opened to say the words, but they stuck in her throat as she saw something that made all her selfish thoughts vanish instantly. A family stood next to a car a few spaces over, a father with his arms around a mother, both of them valiantly trying to stay composed for the sake of the small child that was beside them. Laura's mom opened her car door in time for Laura to hear the child ask when her sister would be coming home. They were innocent words spoken by a child who didn't know any better, but the effect they had on the couple was heartbreaking. The wife turned in toward her husband and let out an anguished wail, all composure falling away as she became wracked with sobs. A hint of his internal anguish showed on the face of the husband for a split second, but then fled quickly as he wrapped his arm around his wife, comforting her as best he could. His voice was soft and patient and his eyes were kind as he looked toward the now-confused young child, gently telling her that her sister might not be coming home for a long time. Sometimes people didn't come home, Laura realized as she wiped away a tear that formed in the corner of her eye. Sometimes families came to this place to see their loved ones for the last time. Just the effort it took to do that must be incredible. By comparison, it made her selfish concerns seem almost petty — her friends would all live, and they would all be out in a matter of days. At least she would get the chance to tell them that she was sorry.
It was with a renewed sense of confidence that she got out of the car and followed her parents into the hospital. They walked through the hallways, the fluorescent lights casting a bright white light across the tastefully decorated surroundings. They passed an occasional nurse, all of whom were friendly and dressed in clothes that were much brighter and cheerier than the starched white robes that Laura had always imagined nurses and doctors wearing. Underneath the seemingly warm atmosphere, though, was a feeling of sterility that she found unsettling. No matter how much the halls were decorated and no matter how much of an effort was made to make the place seem like a home, it couldn't stop the fact that very sick people were kept hidden away from the general public, practically invisible to all but those who sought them out, but there nonetheless. Of course, this was meant to be a place of healing, and she saw more hope than sadness on the faces of the people she passed in the halls, and that made her feel a little better. But that antiseptic smell couldn't easily be dismissed, and it was enough to serve as a constant reminder of the bad things that laid behind the closed doors.
Finally, they reached the area where her friends were being kept. The waiting room was filled with familiar faces, none of whom regarded her with the scorn that she expected. Her parents immediately approached the parents of the girls who had been in the car with her, and as they did, she felt her dad's hand nudge her ever so slightly toward the rooms of her friends. She gave him one last look, one that she was sure conveyed her apprehension, but he just smiled at her and nodded toward the nearest room. His smile always had an energizing effect, maybe even more so now than before, and her fickle confidence was once again restored. Silently, she slipped away, into the first room.
A typical hospital bed sat against the wall near the center of the room, the bright florescent light above it switched on, even though the sun was streaming in through the open curtains. A TV hung from the ceiling across from the bed, tuned in to one talk show or another, the voice of the host a barely audible drone in the background. On the bed was her friend's sister, and she looked fairly well, considering what she had been through. Her leg was in a cast and bandages covered areas where she had had stitches, but besides that, she seemed unharmed. At the sound of Laura's entry into the room, her attention was torn away from the TV and toward the door.
The conversation was awkward at first, but Laura eventually found things to say. Stacy's sister was actually quite gracious about the whole situation, and she seemed to hold no ill will at all toward Laura. Accidents happened, and she seemed just grateful to be alive, especially since she didn't remember actually getting into the car. They chatted for a while before Laura moved on to the next room, and her friend Stacy. This room was remarkably like the last, the wallpaper a different shade of color, but the same pattern, and the TV on a different talk show, not that it was necessarily different from the talk show on in the previous room. Stacy was in even better shape than her sister, and seemed to be in good spirits. The smile never seemed to leave her face as they talked, and joked, and made light of the situation. In the two rooms that she had been in, Laura hadn't experienced any of the negative feelings that she had expected, but there was still one person left to visit.
She was still smiling as she stood up to move on, but she couldn't help but notice how Stacy's smile had begun to morph into a slight frown. When asked what was wrong, she hesitated and fidgeted slightly, before telling Laura just what she would see in the next room. The third passenger in the car, who Laura had never met before the previous night, had been thrown out of the car, resulting in head injuries. Her status was good enough that she didn't need to remain in the ICU, but she still wasn't conscious, and she was very heavily scraped and bruised. It wouldn't be a pretty sight, but that didn't change anything. Laura had expected that bad, if not worse, from all of them, so she supposed she was ready for whatever she might see. With a sympathetic nod, she accepted the warning and steeled herself for the scene that awaited her in the next room. Without another word, she stepped out into the hallway.
The waiting room was back around the corner, and the voices of the assembled parents could be heard, their muffled words inaudible. Above that, though, Laura thought she heard something moving around somewhere close to her, and that caused her to stop and listen more closely. The rustle of clothing and the clipped sound of footsteps on the hard tile floor were very clear, almost as if someone was walking right there in the hall, but not a soul could be seen. On closer inspection, though, she could see the door to the next room was standing slightly ajar. All her senses zeroed in on the door, and the sounds which had seemed so loud before now sounded like thunder, and they were clearly coming from that room. Something in the back of her mind tried to grab her attention, something important, but she pushed it aside as she pondered what her course of action should be. If a nurse or doctor were in there, then she wouldn't want to disturb their work. At the same time, though, it could just be the television that she was hearing. The scenarios flew through her mind, and somewhere along the line, she must've slipped into a daydream, because she could swear that she could see into the room. The door and wall just seemed to melt away, exposing the scene inside. A nurse stood by the side of the bed, where a battered and bandaged girl slept peacefully. A flash of light drew her eyes upward, to a needle that was held tightly in the hand of the nurse. The light glinted off the needle again as it was raised toward the IV by the bed. Laura's eyes wandered up to the face of the nurse, and she noticed that there was no expression there whatsoever — no smile, no frown, not even a hint of whatever she was feeling, but that didn't stop Laura from taking a step back away from the room in what could only be fear. The more she got engrossed in her daydream, the more she felt that everything about the nurse seemed sinister somehow, from her rigid stance to the way that the shadows in the room seemed to seek her out, covering her in a darkness that was almost surreal.
A cold shiver ran down Laura's spine as she watched the woman swiftly insert the needle into the IV feed and slowly depress the plunger. When it was emptied, it was carefully pulled out of the line, capped, and shoved into the pocket of the nurse's overcoat. She gave one last look at the girl, her eyes dark and hard, before turning toward the hallway and her secret observer. The growing roar of the approaching footsteps caused Laura to blink, and immediately her imaginary porthole into the room vanished, replaced by the plain brick of the wall and the slightly opened door. On impulse, she swiftly retreated to the entryway of the previous room, shrinking back into the recess. No sooner had she found her refuge when the footsteps entered into the hallway, but instead of coming toward her, they went the other way down the hall.
Laura peeked cautiously around the corner after a few moments, seeing the retreating form of the nurse. Whatever she had been doing in the other room, it was over now. It probably hadn't been anything, she reasoned, and it had most certainly been paranoid to think otherwise. Nurses gave medication, nurses tended to patients. Nothing was wrong with that at all. With a shake of her head and a chuckle that sounded forced even to her, she set off toward the other room.
Stacy's warning had been well founded, Laura thought as she stepped inside. It immediately struck her that everything was very similar to what she had "seen" in her daydream, even down to the IV, which was strange since none of her other friends had one in their rooms. A large bandage was wrapped around the girl's head, and a heart monitor blipped steadily away next to the bed. Aside from the steady electric pulse of the monitor, the room was almost eerily silent. With a gulp and a sudden twinge of guilt, Laura approached the bed and stood over her. After a moment, she took the girl's hand, and silently wished that she could summon some words to say, even though they might not be heard. Laura needed to say that she was sorry, she needed to let her know that she would do anything she could to help her out, and most of all, she needed to tell her that she would have a friend in Laura for as long as she needed. But none of those words came out, and the stifling silence began to envelop her. Through the now open door came the voices of the parents, and even though she was further away from the waiting room now than she had been before, their words were distinct.
"She has been getting better all the time, we can tell even though she hasn't been able to tell us as much," came the words from who she could only assume were this girl's parents. Immediately she heard the voice of her dad offer comfort, his words soft and friendly, obviously drawn from the many times that he had no doubt been put in a similar position while in his other guise. The discussion moved on, and the more they talked, the more it permeated her subconscious, and the clearer the words came. Soon, conversation from down the hall was all she that could hear, above the regular beep of the monitor, above the gentle rush of cooled air from the vent in the ceiling, and even above her thoughts. Her gaze, which and been unwaveringly fixed on the swollen face of the girl in the bed beside her, shifted up to the door, then discreetly down to the crack below it as she expected to see shadows in the hallway. The group of parents had to have moved down the hall while she had been lost in thought, probably intent on visiting this poor girl yet again. Laura craned her neck, looking for any sign of the people that evidently stood outside her door, but her movement was stopped by the sudden twitch of the hand that she held in her own.
Startled, Laura let out a yelp and loosened her grip, nearly dropping the hand. Her heart raced as she tightened her grip and composed herself, giving a quick look into the face of the girl. The twitch must be an indication that she was gaining consciousness, but there was no sign of movement in her eyes. As Laura watched, the girl's check twitched ever so slightly, then her other hand, then she was still, but only for a moment. Suddenly, she convulsed, her whole body contorting and a grimace forming on her face. The maddeningly steady beat of the heart monitor suddenly became irregular, speeding up and skipping beats in some strange syncopation that was frightening to listen to. Laura watched in horror for a moment before finally lunging for the call button.
"HELP!" she yelled as she pushed the button repeatedly. In a matter of seconds, a nurse ran into the room, followed by more nurses and a doctor, then, finally, some of the parents. The medical staff swarmed around the bed, shouting commands and working furiously while the heart monitor in the background beeped at a furious pace. Eventually, the sound of a loud, single tone came, and Laura could only watch in shock as she retreated to the far corner of the room, away from the frantic action. At some point in time, a machine was brought in to administer an electric shock, and eventually the maddeningly even tone of the monitor gave way to a steady beat. It all seemed like some sort of terrible opera — hypnotic, dramatic, not real. But it was real, it had to be, and she couldn't tear her eyes away. Eventually, an arm was draped across her shoulders, and she looked up to see her dad standing beside her, a look on quiet comfort on his face.
"We should go," he said, and she stiffly started to move with him toward the door, to her mother, and finally down the hall. Her mind replayed the chain of events over and over, the beat of the monitor still ringing in her ears, the horrible look of pain of the girl's face pulling at her very soul. She had witnessed death in that room, and then rebirth. Her life had been fairly sheltered, and she knew that, and death was never something that she had really ever expected to see. Even after last night, even after the knowledge of all the ways that she might be able to help other in the future, she had always just assumed that it would all be positive. Bad things happened in the city, yes, but maybe she had just assumed that the truly awful stuff only happened to people who she would never meet.
Flanked by her parents, she continued down the hall, past the formerly busy waiting room, and back toward the elevators. Her mind was numb, and her eyes didn't want to focus on anything around her. As they turned the last corner they passed the nurses' station, and out of the corner of her eye she saw a glint of silver. Her eyes suddenly zeroed in on the source of the light, and she had to stifle a gasp. There, standing at the counter of the station, was the nurse from her daydream. Her face was now wearing a friendly expression, all hint of malice entirely gone. The silver ballpoint pen she held reflected the light back to Laura once more, and she turned away from the file she was writing in to look down the hall. Oblivious to her onlookers, the nurse's eyes narrowed and her mouth drew into a tight line as she looked toward the room Laura had just left. A cloud seemed to pass over her for a brief moment, and that shiver of fear cut through Laura again. She couldn't be imagining this time — there were no walls between her and this nurse who shouldn't be in the least bit familiar. Maybe she wasn't imagining it last time, either. Maybe what she had seen was real and sinister, and maybe it had been what caused the girl to nearly die right before her eyes.
Just then the elevator doors slid open, and Laura had to look away, but her mind remained active. If what she suspected had happened actually did occur, then she had to do something about it. It would be hard to prove a dream, though. On impulse, she looked back toward the nurse's station, this time aiming for the lapel of the woman she had seen. The doors began to slide shut as she found the nametag, and the last thing she saw before her view was blocked by the closing doors was the name that she was looking for. She squeezed her eyes shut, burning the name into her subconscious, vowing that she would find out everything there was to know about this woman.
As soon as she walked into the house, Laura instantly veered off toward her bedroom, bypassing her somewhat confused parents. During the car ride home, with the quiet sounds of the radio and the murmur of her parents' conversations in the background and the cityscapes flashing by around her, she had been provided an opportunity to organize her thoughts and formulate a plan of action. From her earliest days, she could remember spending time with her parents at the Planet or at home, watching as quietly as a kid could while they immersed themselves in one investigation or another, the routine eventually becoming second nature to her. If nobody else was around, her parents sometimes even let her help them research, sending her to the dusty vaults with clear instructions on what she needed to do. If there was one thing that the children of Lois Lane and Clark Kent knew how to do, it was to collect and assemble data, and it was finally time to put that knowledge to good use. Fortunately, she thought as she made her way up the stairs, most of the types of things that she would be searching for were all computerized and stored on mainframes, accessible to anyone with rudimentary hacking skills, which she also had thanks to her Uncle Jimmy. What she needed to do was clear, how she needed to do it was second nature, it was just a matter of doing the work, and she had the better part of a day to get it done.
She wasted no time as she sat down in front of her computer, silently thanking her parents for giving it to her when they updated the household system. It might be a little outdated, but it still had programs on it which would turn out to be very valuable in her quest. Those were instantly utilized as she started her research by focusing on the name of the nurse. Blind intuition led Laura to believe that the name might be an unlikely source of information, but it was a start. A search of employment history of nurses that had the name that Laura had seen turned up next to nothing, both in Metropolis and elsewhere. For a woman who was possibly 40 years old, the only concrete history on her seemed to be no more than a few years old. Since the name was a dead end, she next checked the statistical trends of the hospital where the nurse worked — what was the death rate among patients, and how did that compare to the national average? What she found was rather startling. The death rate at Metropolis General was much higher than average, but no reports of anything seemingly unusual or sinister were found. There were plenty of unexpected deaths, all of which were investigated by the coroner's office, but none of the usual red flags were waved, and most were written off as tragic coincidences. That meant that the nurse knew what she was doing, that she could disguise the deaths to make them look completely natural. The rise in the death rate of the hospital could be traced back to a specific month about a year ago, which led Laura to check and see who was hired around that time. There, among the other names, was that of her nurse.
Against the phosphorescent glow of the monitor, the name of the nurse almost seemed to scream out, presenting itself in large, bold letters and making sure that there was no doubt about whether or not it would be seen. To Laura, its presence there, its willingness to jump off the screen toward her seemed rather damning. But she knew that her evidence was circumstantial at best. Her supposed victims had been autopsied to no effect; her nurse had had a clean record of employment at the hospital. Nothing on paper even said that there was a crime, be she knew what she had seen with her own two eyes. Since the nurse appeared to be rather skilled when it came to covering her tracks, it was possible that she was experienced at killing, and had done it elsewhere. A large number of tragic coincidences at one hospital could be a fluke, but a recurring pattern of such a thing would be sure to raise more than a few eyebrows. With that in mind, Laura searched for other hospitals throughout the country that had experienced an increase in deaths, gathered names of employees who left just before the rates went back to normal, then compared information on those employees with that of her nurse. Acquiring the data was very time consuming and frustrating, but in the end it was well worth it. By the time the sun went down, Laura had found what she was looking for, even if it didn't quite say everything that she hoped it would.
Her data was sorted into four different piles — Metropolis General Hospital, Chicago Methodist Medical Center, Seattle Metropolitan Hospital, and Phoenix General. For each, she had a list of employees that fit the parameters and copies of the driver's licenses of each. It had cost her a couple of reams of paper, but on the top of each stack was the profile of a female, each with a different name, but all of whom looked enough alike that they could practically have been sisters. Their hair lengths varied, but it wasn't hard to see that they all were the same woman that Laura had seen earlier that day. This was her series of coincidences, her pile of circumstantial evidence that, when added together, could be made into a case against the woman. But it still wasn't enough. The truly damning evidence, the stack of death certificates that said that patients had been murdered at all those hospitals, was lacking. The next step would be to look individually at the autopsy reports, to try and find what it was that tied those patients together, but she wouldn't know what she was looking at. For that, she needed the help of experts, people who routinely dealt with murders and other deaths, who could probably read one of those reports in their sleep. Given time, she could probably figure it out on her own, but night was already upon her, and she couldn't spend all night working on this. No, she needed the help of her parents.
What would they say, she wondered as she gathered her things into her arms. They had been kind enough to bring her supper up to her, and they hadn't said a word about what she was working on. Maybe they recognized the programs she was using, or maybe they saw the stacks of paper that covered every vertical surface of the room and intrinsically knew that it was part of a research project. In any case, they hadn't said anything, instead waiting for her to come to them. It felt good to know that even after what had happened, they trusted her enough to leave her to her own devices. That said a lot about their belief in her, she thought as she opened the door. It was almost unnerving to think of what that meant, but she didn't allow herself to dwell on it. She had spent enough time worrying about herself and her family at the expense of her friends and her values, and now, with her friend's life at stake, was as good a time as any to become the selfless person that she should be. After all, this investigation wasn't about her, it was about what she could do for others.
Looking around the upstairs hallway, it was clear that her parents' bedroom was empty. A soft glow could be seen from downstairs, though, and a muffled voice bounced up the walls, almost masking the distinctive high-pitched whine of the TV, followed by the sound of canned laughter. There were no sounds of human habitation — no movements, no voices or gentle laughter, but intuition and experience told her that her parents were there anyway, probably huddled together on the couch. Slowly, she made her way down the stairs, trying to fight the apprehension that was suddenly welling up inside of her. Eventually, she reached the point where she could see into the living room. As expected, her parents sat side by side on the couch, her dad's arm draped nonchalantly over her mother's shoulder, drawing her into him. Her mom's head rested on her dad's shoulder, her hands on his knee. They watched the TV in silence, evidently content to just be together. It was yet another scene of domestic bliss, one in a series of maddeningly normal things that just proved that her family wasn't so different after all. She almost felt bad walking into the room and disturbing their time together, but as the stack of paper seemed to grow heavier in her arms, the urgency of the situation became clear yet again.
"Mom, Dad," she said as she came into full view of them. Their heads turned toward her in unison, the look of droopy-eyed contentment on their faces quickly being replaced by smiles, then puzzlement.
"What do you have there?" her Mom asked as she motioned for Laura to come forward. Hesitantly, Laura proceeded toward them, but with each step her confidence grew, and by the time she laid her stack of paper on the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to them, she felt like she could take on the world.
Laura opened her mouth to tell them all about her research, but then she realized that they probably wouldn't know why she was pursuing something that had no basis in anything, at least not as far as they knew. What they had seen at the hospital was presented as a heartbreaking case of a girl nearly dying as a result of injuries sustained in an accident. Nobody even suspected there was anything more to it than that, not even her award winning investigative reporter parents. SHE wouldn't have suspected it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes, but once she convinced herself that what she had seen was real, it became an undisputable fact in her mind. This WAS a case of attempted murder, and that was what all her research was built around. That had to be laid clear before any thing else.
"Today, at the hospital, I saw something," she started, her gaze shifting between her parents. "My friend died right in front of my eyes, then she was brought back again. Seeing that was more than enough for me to see how fragile life is, and to make sure I don't take it for granted again."
Her parents were giving her supportive smiles and nodding ever so slightly. She felt her lower lip quaver ever so slightly as she took a deep breath. "But that wasn't all I saw. What happened to her wasn't an accident, or a fluke, and it certainly didn't have anything to do with the accident last night. She was poisoned."
"Poisoned? How do you know?" her Mom asked, a note of skepticism in her voice.
"I saw it," Laura said simply.
"Saw it? How?" her dad asked as he leaned forward, his arm pulling away from her mom.
"I was in the hallway and heard a noise, and as I looked toward the room it came from, the wall just seemed to vanish and I could see everything."
"Everything?" her mom asked, a strange tone in her voice.
"Yeah. There was my friend, lying on the bed asleep, her head all covered with bandages. A nurse was there, too, administering something to her through the IV. The whole situation struck me as a little spooky, although I don't know why. After the nurse left, I went into the room, and that's when everything happened. One minute she was fine, the next her heart stops. I couldn't buy that it was a coincidence, and I couldn't ignore the funny feeling I got when I saw that nurse, so once I got home I started doing some research," she said, pointing to the stack of papers. Her parents both reached over and grabbed a pile, flipping rapidly through the papers with growing expressions of awe.
"You researched the death rate of the hospital," her mom said.
"And the death rates at other hospitals," her dad added.
"Looked up employee lists."
"Compared photos of all those employees, and then concluded…"
"That the nurse I saw putting the drugs into my friend's IV was employed at all those hospitals with elevated death rates, starting at roughly the time that their death rates started to increase, and leaving right before they decreased," Laura finished for them, watching with a smile as they looked at her with wide eyes. A silence descended upon the room, broken only by the drone of the sitcom on the television. After a few moments, her parents seemed to gain their composure, again sifting through the papers, this time with a more analytical eye.
"There reports say that all these extra deaths were coincidences," her dad said, drawing a critical look from her mom.
"Oh, come on, Clark. I think Laura's on to something here."
"I know what I saw," Laura said adamantly, an angry undertone in her voice that she hadn't expected.
"But the proof just isn't there," her dad said with a sigh. "Is that why you came to us?"
Laura nodded, her eyebrows raised in anticipation.
"If we could find something, this would make a fantastic story," her mom said, bringing an emphatic nod from her dad.
"I was thinking that the key could be whatever drug was used on these people. Maybe it'll show in the autopsies somewhere," Laura said. Her parents continued to flip through the papers at an increasing speed, swapping sheets with one another and segregating things out into new piles on the table. From somewhere a pad of paper appeared, and her mom started scribbling down notes. It was as if they had suddenly been plunged into the middle of a full fledged Planet investigation, and Laura almost expected to hear the soft clacking made by keyboards begin to materialize in the background. For once, she was a part of one of those investigations, not as a gopher or a helper, but as a full- fledged partner, and it sure felt exciting.
"Or maybe the drugs will show up as missing from the hospital inventory," her mom said.
"Find reports of stolen drugs at the hospitals in question and then get a hold of autopsies and see if they were present in the victims' systems. Maybe even follow up with a search warrant for this nurse's apartment." Her mom scribbled furiously as her dad spoke, and together they continued to analyze the reports Laura had generated. The snowball had been pushed over the apex of the hill, and it was only a matter of time before it turned into a veritable avalanche. Laura sat back and watched it all happen, content to see the Lane and Kent magic at work, until her dad suddenly stopped and reached out for Lois.
"Wait a second," he said, before turning toward Laura. "You said the wall you were looking at just vanished. Do you realize what that means?" he asked. There was a note of excitement in his voice and a twinkle in his eye that she hadn't seen in a while. That in and of itself seemed so out of place considering the gravity of the case that he had been engrossed in only a moment earlier, and Laura was caught off guard for a moment. She could only stare blankly at him, her brow furrowed.
"It means that our little girl is growing up fast," her mom said, laying the papers she still held back onto the table and leaning in toward her husband again. "They start out with x-ray vision and before you know it…"
"They're off at college and you're signing your life away to the tuition Gods," her dad finished, drawing a chuckle from Lois. The teasing smile lingered on his face as he turned toward Laura. "So how did it feel to use a superpower for the first time?" he asked.
Even as he asked the question, it began to occur to her just what it was that she had done. Her blank look was gradually replaced by one of genuine surprise, and suddenly her mind was spinning so fast that it almost felt dizzying. As odd as it sounded, it had never occurred to Laura that such a momentous thing was happening when she looked through that wall. It could be that she hadn't yet sunk in that it was possible that she could do such a thing sometime, but she had attributed it to a daydream or a hallucination, the types of things that would happen to normal people. Even when she did realize that what she had seen was real, the thought of it being a super experience was the furthest thing from her mind. Maybe it was the shock of seeing everything she had seen, or maybe she had subconsciously decided it was something divine, but now she knew better. In retrospect, it should've been pretty obvious what was happening, and as she thought about the implications of it, she could feel her skin prickle with goose bumps. Everything that she had been alternately dreading and looking forward to was happening, and she hadn't even known it.
Her jaw was falling fast as she looked back toward her dad. With great effort, she snapped it shut, taking a large intake of breath before finally giving him a shaky smile. "It felt…" she started, but then had to shake her head as the emotions coursed through her. There were so many words to describe her feelings — fear, exhilaration, apprehension, pride. In truth she knew it would take a while for one of those emotions to truly win out over the others, but for now… "It felt great," she finally said, offering a smile.
They all smiled at each other for a few moments, before her dad finally blinked, and then looked toward the mess they had created on the coffee table.
"I want you to rest assured that we'll crack this case for you, kiddo," her dad said, drawing a nod from her mom. "You did the right thing by coming to us."
"And let me say how impressed I am," her mom added. "We have college interns working at the Planet that don't do this good of a job."
"I'm so proud," her dad said, and Laura felt the emotion surge up inside of her again. "You went to all this work just to make sure that the woman you'd seen harm your friend wouldn't be allowed to hurt anyone else. Lesser people would've turned a blind eye or chalked it up to coincidence, but not my little girl."
"It was the right thing to do," she replied with a shrug, but then realized that it hadn't needed to be said. Her whole life, she'd been raised to know right from wrong, to see the consequences of actions and to help those in need. At some point it just became ingrained, or maybe it was just part of her nature to begin with. Her father was Superman, after all, and he was driven to do what was right by nothing so much as a sense of fairness and justice. Maybe she was like him, after all.
Laura felt a week's worth of nervous energy drain out of her as she concluded that, even thought it was completely inadvertent, she had done what she had thought was impossible: she had lived up to the legend. The spirit that created Superman and that led to all the great accomplishments of Lane and Kent and their elder children resided within her, too. It had been silly to doubt herself, she knew now. Maybe the future wasn't such a bad thing, after all. And maybe, just maybe, she'd have her picture hanging in the high school halls someday, too.
"Are you ready?" Clark asked as he stood in the back yard, decked out in the Superman outfit. Laura looked as his chest and gulped, before turning back and meeting his eyes with hers, a look apprehension on her face. Her long black hair was tightly pulled back, and she was wearing black jeans and a black sweatshirt, becoming almost invisible in the shadow he cast from the lights of the house.
"As ready as I'll ever be," she said, her voice a little shaky. He smiled at her, hoping to give a little encouragement. It was only natural for someone to be nervous when embarking on their first stakeout, although he had a feeling that that particular worry came a distant second behind the experience of a night in the life of Superman. The expression she wore was identical to that he had seen on the faces of his sons all those years ago when they spent their first nights with Superman.
"There will be a quick lift off the ground, just like last time," he said as he gathered her in his arms. He didn't give her a chance to ponder what he said before he shot up into the night sky, bound for Metropolis General Hospital. He and Lois had spent a whole day working with the information that Laura had given them the night before, and they had stuck gold. Digging further into the records at the hospitals with high death rates, they had also found a large amount of missing drugs. None of them in and of themselves would be lethal to a patient, but when mixed together, they formed a toxic solution that was virtually untraceable in the victim after death. The inspired chemical work was thanks to Dr. Klein, and now all that needed to be done before the story could be written was to actually catch the nurse in the act.
Clark was used to putting the finishing touches on these types of investigations by himself. Lois was the master of the hands-on investigative approach, but when it came to the element of surprise, to actually catching someone who was committing a crime, it became a job for Superman. But because this was Laura's story, and because she was beginning to develop some super talents of her own, Clark figured this would be a good night to bring her along, to teach her to use her gifts. And maybe in the process they would be able to talk some more. As much as Laura had learned about herself and what she was capable of in the last few days, Clark had also learned about the complexity of her personality, and he wanted to continue that development. After spending 15 years raising her, teaching her, being a father to her, he had also taken a lot for granted about who she was. Somehow, though, she had managed to surprise him.
He looked down at the dark bundle he held in his arms, and noticed that her eyes were screwed shut and buried in the crook of her arm that was draped across his shoulders. Her heart was beating very quickly, betraying her nervousness. "Hey," he said, jostling her ever so slightly. One of her eyes popped opened as she turned her head toward him, her expression questioning. "You're missing a great view," he continued.
The corners of her mouth turned down ever so slightly as she stared at him for a moment, then ever so slowly began to turn her head back, this time looking between her arm and his body. "Oh, wow," she said, and he could instantly feel her relax. They flew in silence for a few more moments before she spoke again, her voice stronger than it had been.
"I've had dreams about flying," Laura said, her eyes still directed downward. "But everything the imagination can muster up still isn't as good as the real thing."
"The real world isn't such a bad place to live in, huh?" Clark asked. As he did, he spotted the hospital, and began to descend, finally landing on the roof of the building across the street.
"It has its moments," Laura said. Clark leaned over, positioning her so that she could stand. She separated from him almost reluctantly, before turning toward the hospital. "I admit life is a lot more exciting than it was, but having a police record isn't much fun."
Clark moved over to the ledge and sat down, motioning for Laura to join him. "Everyone's allowed mistakes, but most of the time they don't come without consequences. You take the rap, pay your higher insurance premiums, and learn. You can't grow as a person without making some mistakes."
Laura looked at him and nodded, then turned back toward the hospital. "So what are we looking for again?" she asked, pointing in the general direction of the building.
"Well, first we need to find the area where the nurse worked, where your friends were kept. Remember where that is?" he asked, and was greeting with a nod. "Okay, now you need to just take a look inside and keep an eye on her."
Laura's brow furrowed as she appeared to concentrate on something, then shook her head. "It's not working," she said, frustration evident in her voice.
"Relax a little," Clark responded. "Envision that you're seeing into the hospital and it'll just happen." Describing the use of power was a lot easier now than it had been the first time he had tried. How do you tell someone how to do something that was instinctual? How do you try and teach another human being how to breathe or to swallow or to do any one of a number of things that are done subconsciously every day? Experience had taught him that 'The Little Engine That Could' still gave the best advice in this area, however. If you think you can, then that was usually all you need.
Apparently his words of wisdom worked on Laura. In a matter of moments, the frown on her face was replaced by a smile of sheer delight. "I can see it," she whispered almost breathlessly, and Clark let himself smile at her. It almost seemed hard to believe that she was old enough to be developing superpowers, but then again, it occurred to him that it felt like she was too young when she signed up for that driving course. He blinked, bringing his thoughts back to the present. With a steady intake of breath, he turned toward the hospital, the wall dissolving in front of him to observe the nurse in question. She was doing paperwork at the nurse's station, seemingly oblivious to the people around her. Not much to see, Clark knew, but fate was almost never kind enough to let the activity in question happen in a timely manner. This building ledge would be well warmed by the time their nurse made her move, he was sure.
"You don't make mistakes," he heard Laura say, drawing him away from his thoughts. The wall of the hospital popped back into place, and he gave her a sideways glance.
"What makes you say that?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.
"Well, you know, you listen to the news and you'd think that Superman could do no wrong," she answered. It looked as if she wanted to look toward him, but she seemed unwilling to turn away from the building.
Clark shook his head and gave a humorless chuckle. "I've made every mistake in the book. Most of them were a long time ago, and most were not things that anyone would notice, but some were whoppers. I just think that a lot of people have short memories." The thoughts of some of his more glaring errors made him cringe somewhat. Being fooled by Intergang almost caused the city of Metropolis to be the epicenter of a nuclear explosion, the deaths of millions over his head. That was probably the worst, but there were others, moments when he hadn't been thinking clearly and had done something that he later regretted. Lois knew that he was less than perfect when it came to relationships, too, and not just with her. A slight miscalculation had meant that his sons had to find out about his identity the hard way, something that he never would've wanted if given a choice. He'd never believed that he was above anyone else, and in fact managed to convince himself that there was always something more that he should be doing in about every situation. "I'm far from perfect. You've known me long enough to know that."
There was a long moment of silence before Laura spoke again. "I guess," she said, swinging her feet. There was a sour note in her expression, something that told him that she wasn't convinced. It was true what she said, that the media in Metropolis portrayed him as some sort of omnipotent being incapable of doing anything wrong. He and Lois had never purposely contributed to that image in their reporting, but they didn't do anything to negate it, either. After more than 25 years of being inundated with that kind of reporting, the citizenry of Metropolis had been made to believe it, too. His daughter wasn't any different, he was sure. As much as he and Lois had tried to shield her from Superman, it was impossible for her not to hear about his feats, and even though he knew that she had been rather indifferent toward him before, she had certainly taken his infallibility as truth. Conditioning like that was hard to get rid of, even after learning that her sometimes embarrassing father was that supposedly perfect person. No amount of talking could get rid that, either. She just had to convince herself of what the truth was. Clark smiled at her, deciding to inject a not of humor into the conversation, hopefully reminding her of who he really was.
"On the other hand, if you ask your mother, she'd say that she's never been wrong about anything in her entire life," he said, drawing a crooked smile out of her.
"You mean that's not true?" Laura asked, the humor now apparent in her voice.
"No, it's not, but don't tell her I said that." She knew just as well as he did that Lois could be wrong upon occasion, but his actually admitting that to any of their kids would probably yield at least one night of her cooking as a form of revenge, and none of them wanted that.
"Your secret's safe with me," Laura said, the irony of the statement not lost on either of them. She leaned back against the side of the building, a thoughtful look on her face as she kept her eyes fixed on the hospital. Clark joined her, a comfortable silence developing between them. They watched the mundane happenings of hospital life, and Clark knew that Laura's eyes would wander back to her friends upon occasion. It was hard to not see the guilt that she felt over their injuries, even when she knew full well that they would all be okay. A little guilt was healthy, he supposed, and it certainly came to her honestly.
"How do you come out and do it every night?" Laura asked, her soft yet forceful voice cutting through the silence. "You become someone who's everything that you're not; you set a legend that nobody can realistically live up to. It can't be easy…" she trailed off. Clark looked at her again, his eyebrows knitted together. She was still struggling to reconcile the two sides of him, still fighting with the problem of image.
"Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't," he started, mentally searching for the words to say that would finally make it come together. "I'm the same person no matter what I have on, and I always try to live up to the same standards whether its in reporting or being a dad or catching bad guys. The truth is, it's a lot easier to live up to that standard as Superman, just because nobody really knows him, nobody is allowed to see his feelings or really hear his thoughts. Superman was made into a caricature on purpose, in part as a measure of protection for you and your brothers." Clark laid his hand on her shoulder, finally drawing her eyes away from the hospital. She was frowning now, struggling with the last of her mental barriers.
"I don't think I could do that," she said, her voice a rasp now. He could see the mist gathering in her eyes, the true issue finally bearing itself.
The hand on her shoulder moved up to her cheek, cradling it lovingly. "Nobody's asking you to," he said, garnering a pained half-smile from her. "Someday you might make that choice, but whether you do or not doesn't matter to me." She looked away from him shyly, her cheek turning slightly into his hand. "Just because you've made mistakes doesn't mean that you can't be a hero either. Someday I'll tell you about some of my hero friends in other cities, and the things they've done in real life. You'll probably be shocked," he said with a smile and a small chuckle. "But I know that a true hero sees their mistakes as opportunities to improve themselves, and that's just what you've done. You have what it takes, never doubt that."
Her smile was more genuine as she turned back toward him. "You know so much," she said, her voice still small.
"Well, that just comes with age. Someday you will, too, but if you want I can give you a few pointers," he said, removing his hand from her cheek and looking at her with raised eyebrows. At her nod, he continued. "The biggest thing you have to remember is that just because you have powers, that doesn't mean that they should be used. There are times when it's okay to use brute force, but there are other times when it's better to talk to someone. There might be a time when you feel the incredible need to, say, x-ray into the boys locker room, but that doesn't mean that you should."
"Daddy!" Laura exclaimed, and Clark had to laugh. She leaned in toward him, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, gathering her into a hug. That seemed to soothe away the last of her worries, and from that point on, they chatted about anything and everything. It finally felt like old times again, like the last few days hadn't happened, like he had his daughter back. Clark thanked the heavens that they had this opportunity to reconcile things, and begged them for a little more time to enjoy their night together.
It was a few hours later when the nurse finally made her move, discreetly sneaking into the room of the newest patient on the floor, removing a vial of mixed drugs and a needle from her uniform and inserting into the patient's IV. Clark rushed away, promising Laura that he'd be back for her shortly. As he apprehended the nurse, he looked back out toward the ledge and his daughter, and she gave him a thumbs up, a smile on her face. He had to force himself to not break the stoic mask Superman was famous for, but he did give her a wink and a nod in acknowledgement.
The police came, the nurse was shipped away, and all seemed right with the world. When he got home, he and Lois would talk with the police and polish up their story, which he was sure would appear in the Planet in the morning. The byline would be Lane and Kent, but they would make sure that Laura got her name mentioned, as well. This story had been hard-earned, brought about by an invaluable life lesson, and she deserved all the credit in the world for that.
The evening edition of the Daily Planet was neatly tucked under Jon's arm as he entered the backyard of his childhood home. His parents had already waved him through the house, but thankfully they didn't dwell on why he was there in the first place. It should be pretty obvious, he though as a picture of the front page headline flashed through his memory. With a little help, his sister had accomplished something that he had yet to do, and she was eight years his junior. Under the circumstances, it would be easy to be jealous, but those feelings just weren't there at all. Instead, he felt incredibly proud, and he needed to tell her that.
Laura sat at the picnic table on the patio, staring up at the sky with a slight smile on her face. Just what she was staring at was a mystery, but Jon suspected that she was seeing things now that she had only read about — the satellites hovering around the earth, the stars hidden by the clear blue late afternoon sky, perhaps a stray airplane. Fifteen wasn't too old to exude innocence, and that was precisely what she was doing. She was still discovering all the joys that the world held, all the mysteries that she could only imagine before, and Jon couldn't help but give a longing sigh in memory of that time in his own life.
His sigh finally brought her back to Earth, so to speak. Her head whipped around, and her smile broadened as she caught sight of him. One of her hands raised in greeting, motioning for him to sit down at the table beside her. With a slight shake of his head, Jon motioned for her to follow him. "Let's go somewhere more private," he said as he took off across the yard, bound for the aging tree house that graced one of the old oak trees that lined the back of the property. She followed him, a curious half grin on her face. One by one, they climbed the boards that were nailed into the trunk of the tree acting as a ladder, and finally made it inside of the old fort. Funny, it was a lot smaller than he remembered it to be, but those feelings of safety and privacy that the inside of the tree house always seemed to hold were the same as he remembered. Just looking at the kid scribbles on the wall, the crayon drawings on the wood beams that passed for artwork, made him feel like he had come home again.
Jon sat cross-legged in the corner, removing the paper from under his arms as his sister took up a similar position across from him. She blushed ever so slightly as she looked down at the headline, then looked up at him with a note of apology in her expression. "Jon, I'm sorry…" she started, but he shook his head furiously, cutting her off.
"You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. Your find was incredible, and it deserved to be on the front page. I'm proud of you, kid," he said, then reached out to ruffle her hair. She laughed a little nervously, the red in her cheeks deepening, but her expression still seemed apologetic.
"I just feel bad about taking part in a story like that when you haven't had the chance to yet. You've earned it — you got your degree, you put in your time in high school and college," Laura continued, her voice small.
"And you got lucky, and sometimes that's all you need," he replied, hoping his positive attitude would rub off on her. Yes, she was lucky, but a chance observation still wouldn't have amounted to anything if it weren't for her instincts, and she had instinct in spades. Someday she would make a great reporter, or maybe a great detective or superhero. All those things were very possible, but for now, she was just a kid, and there was no use rushing into anything. She had all the time in the world to develop her skills, to turn her potential into something tangible, but for now she just needed to have fun and enjoy her youth while she could.
Her expression softened somewhat, although some skepticism seemed to linger behind her eyes. "Anyway," Jon continued, still trying to ease her guilt. "Life isn't a competition. It's not about who gets on the front page first or catches more bad guys or has their picture put up on the wall of the high school. In the end, it all comes down to who you are, not what you do."
Laura ducked her head and gave a self-effacing smile. "I wondered about who I was for a while," she said so softly that Jon had to activate his enhanced hearing to understand what she was saying.
"That just comes from being a teenager," he replied. He could see her grimace ever so slightly, opening her mouth as if to say something, but he held up his hand to silence her. She didn't need to say that there was more to it, because he knew that well. And maybe she had come to grips with the matter of her heritage, but if she were anything like he was at that age, sometimes she still needed to be told that all the significance of being half Kryptonian didn't mean all that much in the end. "Sometimes life throws you a curveball, and no matter what that ends up being, it makes you doubt yourself. You can either come out of that by being mad at the world, or you can come out with all guns blazing."
"I didn't plan to come out with this," she answered, pointing at the paper. "It just kind of happened."
"There's nothing wrong with that," Jon said gently. He looked at Laura and she looked back at him, her eyebrows raised.
"And you aren't the least bit jealous?" she asked after a moment. He locked eyes with her, trying to convey his confidence, but after a long pause, he had to look away.
"Maybe just a little," he answered, drawing a small laugh from her.
"Welcome to my world," she said, a note of something in her voice that he had never heard before. Jon's smile fell away as her studied her face, and the meek smile that it held. He couldn't be positive, but if he had to guess, he'd say that there was something inside her that always made her feel like she was second best. Maybe it came from being the youngest, but something about her behavior from the beginning seemed to say that she never considered herself to be equal to the praise she was receiving. It was hard to see the accomplishments of others and not want to live up to them, or feel a little jealousy toward them for accomplishing whatever it was in the first place. But in her mind, to succeed to the level of her predecessors would not be such an impressive thing, because it had all been done before. In order to have her own successes, she would have to work twice as hard and earn twice as many honors, or so she probably thought, but that wasn't true. What she had done in getting her story published was remarkable, and there wasn't enough that could be said about that.
"Who do you possibly have to be jealous of?" he asked, tilting his head to the side. His voice was dead serious, his eyes devoid of the teasing gleam that they sometimes held. The question wasn't meant as flattery, it was merely an inquiry, but he didn't mind the complimentary undertones of the question. Maybe he was biased, but he tended to think that, if anything, other people should be jealous of her.
Laura's eyes grew wide, and the look she flashed Jon made him wonder of he'd grown a second head. "You, the all-state musician, CJ the brain, Mom and Dad the prize winning journalists, or maybe a couple of Superheroes who shall remain nameless," she said, a note of sarcasm creeping into her voice. "You guys cast some pretty long shadows to try and step out of."
Jon shrugged in response. "You already have, not that you ever really needed to in the first place. I know it sounds cliche, but just being yourself means that you've already got everything it takes to be a success. I mean, look at this," he said, pointing at the paper again. "Maybe it's me who needs to step out from your shadow."
The blush was back, turning her cheeks a bright shade of pink. Her mouth opened as if to say something, but no words came out for a long moment. Jon seized the opportunity and began to speak again.
"Anyway, you aren't the only one who's ever felt pressured to succeed. Try being the number one son of the most famous person in the world." Laura's eyebrows raised and she nodded curtly, urging him on. "The comparisons can drive you crazy," he continued. "I mean, think of everything Dad's done to help not just Metropolis, but the world."
"He saved it from being hit by an asteroid," Laura answered.
"Got rid of a force of alien invaders."
"Single-handedly stopped half a dozen wars."
"Saved crashing airplanes, cleaned up after countless natural disasters, prevented several nuclear meltdowns, and a partridge in a pear tree," Jon finished, drawing a smile from his sister. "Dad won a Nobel prize, for goodness sakes. I haven't even left Metropolis."
"You've only been doing it for a couple of months," Laura countered. It was amazing how much she seemed to have grown up in the course of a few days. The teenager with a bruised ego and a narrow view of the world had been replaced by the selfless, almost painfully humble woman in front of him. "You've made a difference here."
"I know," Jon replied. It was a conversation he'd had with himself dozens of times before, but it did illustrate a point. "But people can be cruel. You should've seen some of the articles that have been written, accusing me of being self-centered or lazy. It's enough to make you ask yourself why you even bother some days, but then you remember why you started in the first place."
Laura nodded, a sense of understanding forming on her face. A silence developed as he watched her think long and hard about what he'd said. Finally, as her eyes met hers again, he gave her a smile. "So why'd you write that story," he asked softly.
Her smile mirrored his, reaching her eyes as genuine happiness seemed to reach her for the first time. "I wanted to help," she said, her voice light.
"Well, then I think you and I have something in common, and I'm not talking about our respective ice cream cravings," he said.
Her face lit up in a way that he hadn't seen in a long time, and he could tell he'd hit the right button. Maybe her ultimate fear had been that she could never live up to all the heroes in the family, but now she knew that he at least thought that she had already succeeded. "Maybe this hero gig runs in the family," she said. That was the understatement of the year.
"Yeah, I think I get it from Dad's side of the family. I don't know about you," he responded, drawing a chuckle from her. That statement was only partially true, he knew. Any heroism that his dad held was rooted in his relationship with Lois. Together they fought crime, both with words and superhuman deeds, and together they gave themselves the strength to go on and fight another day. Laura probably knew that as well as he did, and if she didn't, then she'd certainly find out soon.
After a small bit of laughter, a comfortable silence formed between them, and he could tell Laura was thinking of something. He looked at her curiously, trying to coax her into saying what was on her mind. She looked at him, a question in her eyes, before she finally spoke. "You mentioned a craving for ice cream?" she asked. Jon nodded. "Well, my craving flared up again, and I think I'll just about die if I can't get a scoop of some chocolate."
"Ah," he answered, an idea forming. "There's a place I've heard of that's really good. Apparently Dad brings Mom there all the time."
"I thought I'd been to all the ice cream stands in Metropolis," she answered. "Where could this place be?"
Jon could practically feel the gleam come into his eyes. "Oh, it's not in Metropolis," he said with a smile, waiting for the response. It only too Laura a moment, but eventually a sly smile developed on her face.
"So where is it?" she asked. Jon stood up and began to make his way over to the ladder and down out of the tree house.
"Somewhere in Europe," he said with a shrug.
Laura looked at her watch, then back at him. "But it's getting close to the dinner hour. Won't we ruin our supper?" she asked. They looked at each other for a moment before they both broke into hearty laughter. Coming from two people with metabolisms that could probably handle several gallons of ice cream and still leave room for several large meals, the question was rather absurd. With a shrug, she got up and followed him down, and in a matter of moments, there was a whooshing sound, and the backyard of the Kent home was bare.
As a comfortable and entirely welcome silence descended on the Kent household, Clark found Lois sitting on the couch in the living room, a scrapbook in her lap. Quietly he sneaked toward her, gazing over her shoulder as he came up behind the couch and snaked his arms around her. She startled at his touch, and blushed ever so slightly as she caught him reading the screaming headline on the page in front of her. "Cafeteria to Feature Pizza Only Line," read the article head, right under the banner announcing that the article had come from the Metropolis Roosevelt High School Chronicle.
"My first byline," Lois said, a twinge of embarrassment in her voice. "I was Laura's age when I wrote this, and it was probably the most thrilling headline I've ever had." Her fingers lingered on the edge of the page as she looked anxiously up at Clark.
"She takes after you, then," Clark responded, then kissed the top of her head. "An intrepid reporter at the spry young age of 15."
"If she takes after anyone, it's you," Lois replied as she closed the scrapbook. Her hands immediately moved to capture his, laying a gentle kiss on the back of his hand as she did. "I certainly wasn't seeing through walls back then."
Clark smiled and kneeled down slightly, getting his head even with his wife's. "You've got me there. I seem to recall, though, that I didn't see anything interesting through those walls, although I do remember accidentally peeking into a girl's locker and seeing every poster ever made of David Hasselhof. That hardly compares."
Clark had expected a gentle laugh from Lois, but instead she gave a far away sigh. "Ah, the 80's," she said with a decidedly wistful tone. "It almost seems like that decade has become one big cliche, and that's too bad."
"Good memories?" Clark asked, but he knew the answer. He could still remember what it felt like to live through that decade, and those feelings led to memories that had been stored away for a long time. He remembered the mall hair that all the girls at school had, even though the nearest mall was an hour away. He remembered the TV shows of the time, and how he had secretly wished for a few months that he could go to Hawaii and be the sidekick to Magnum PI. He also remembered the hard times on the farm, the endless calls from the bank that made his dad grow eerily quiet for hours at a time. A lot of his powers were developed during that time, too, and he vividly remembered the highs and lows, the wonderment and the fear that came with each one. Through all the fun and all the heartbreak and headache, those were the 80's, a time that was so much more than the hair bands, republican politics and other cliches that it seemed destined to be remembered for.
"Some memories were bad," Lois said softly, her eyes focused off into the distance. The words hung in the air for a moment, then she shook her head and smiled up at Clark. "A lot were good, though. It's weird how a song or a photograph can bring it all back, you know?" Clark nodded in agreement. Songs always had the power to bring back memories. He could still remember just what he had been doing the first time he heard certain melodies. Those were the types of things that gave life texture and flavor, the thought as a smile began to form on his lips. Nobody said that songs from an era could only contain memories from that era, right? The eighties still held the power to capture the imagination, and to make new memories, and Clark had the perfect idea for something that would certainly create a new imprint on Lois. He dropped her hands, stood up, and headed toward the stereo.
"What are you doing?" Lois asked as she watched him. He looked over his shoulder and smiled, then turned back toward the large collection of CDs. He knew the one he was looking for was there somewhere, it was just a matter of finding it. It only took a second to find it and pop it into the player.
"Let's call it reliving those years of our adolescence, when the world was terrible and awful and nobody understood us. Maybe we can give ourselves new memories of that time."
After a moment, the first notes of the song came blasting through the speakers, and Clark could see Lois narrow her eyes as she attempted to figure out the title. Her eyes then widened as it hit her, before narrowing again in amusement as she turned her gaze toward him.
"Are you trying to tell me something, Clark?" she asked as the first strains of "Dancing on the Ceiling," by Lionel Richie began to issue forth from Clark's almost forgotten 'Hits of the 80's' CD. She stood up and grinned as he began to approach her.
"Well, I've always said if you still have two feet on the ground, it's not really dancing. Wouldn't you agree?" he asked as he gathered her in her arms and twirled her around, before gently setting her back on the ground and peering at her with a devilish grin. His eyes glinted as he looked to her for approval, and Lois couldn't help but giving him a sly look of her own before kicking off her shoes, silently granting him approval to rise to the occasion. Clark also slid out of his shoes before floating them upward and turning the world upside down. They both laughed as they danced to the beat of the music, but they were laughing too hard to keep up, and eventually collapsed into each other, settling for a slow dance that seemed at odds with the music.
"Nobody can dance like you can," Lois said with a sigh as she laid her head against his chest. "I bet you had a lot of fun at parties back in the 80's." She looked up at him, her eyes large and innocent, and Clark couldn't help but lean down and capture her lips with his own. Their movement stopped for a moment as they both lost themselves in the kiss. All notion of gravity or rhythm ceased to be recognized as it occurred to him that this was most certainly a more pleasant reality than his old memories of a decade long past, a time when he wasn't sure of what his life held, a time when he believed that the type of love he shared with Lois would never come. He roughly pushed those thoughts away as they pulled apart.
"It's a little known fact that Lionel Richie wrote this song shortly after attending one of those parties," he quipped, bringing a smile to Lois's face.
"My husband, fraternizing with celebrities. What's next, cozying up to local superheroes?" Lois asked. Before Clark got a chance to answer, though, the song ended. They looked at each other, a flash of disappointment on their faces before Clark reluctantly began to descend to the melodies of the next great 80's hit.
"Reliving adolescence has never been so much fun, I must admit," Lois said as they touched down on the floor and the world returned to its normal, upright self. "I found out that you were showing the world how to really have a good time…"
"And you were writing headlines of earth shattering importance to the school lunch community," Clark finished with a smirk, which again brought a slight blush to Lois's cheeks.
"And our daughter, she's building up stories that make the front page of the most respected newspaper in the world at the same age," Lois said, and the smile dropped from Clark's face. She was right — Laura was already proving her talents, and she was only fifteen. As much as he hated to admit it, Clark had always been somewhat apprehensive of what the future held for his children. He had lived through the doubt and the worry, the feelings of isolation and the long nights spent worrying about how he could avoid discovery yet again. Would his children go through the same trials and tribulations? Would they be lucky enough to find someone like Lois, someone who loved them completely and accepted them for everything that they were? He could only hope so, but he was secure at least in the knowledge that all of them had the talent to make it in the world.
"She'll do okay for herself, I'm not worried," he said, causing a skeptical glance from Lois. Clark knew that he should feel insulted at the insinuation that somehow always worried, but it was true. Usually he did worry, but not anymore. Laura's future was bright. "I'm really not," he said as he looked into her eyes, but that only caused her eyebrows to rise even higher.
"I'll believe that when I see it," Lois replied, hugging him tightly before loosening her grip and slipping away. "Meanwhile, how about we wrap up this trip down memory lane with a little old fashioned 80's cooking? I have some TV dinners in the freezer…"
"My wife, the gourmet chef," Clark said with a laugh as he wrapped his arms around her from behind and followed her into the kitchen. All in all, things seemed to be back to normal, whatever that was. He looked up toward the ceiling and saw the barest smudges where they had done their dancing. There probably wasn't a family in Metropolis that cleaned their ceilings as often as his did, but it was a small price to pay. The joy and contentedness that had always been a cornerstone of his life with Lois, that had carried him through the anguish that came from seeing the worst in people, was back, and he could smile again. That smile only broadened as he realized that there would no longer be any secrets within his family. Imagine how much easier family vacations would be from now on, he thought with a chuckle, drawing Lois's eyes toward him.
"What?" she asked, her eyes twinkling.
"I was just thinking how much I would enjoy your scrumptious Salisbury steak with green beans and a brownie," he said. Lois raised her eyebrows in response, turning in his grip and running her hands up his sides. Clark flinched and laughed as the unexpected tickling penetrated his defenses.
"Liar," Lois said playfully. "But flattery will get you everywhere. Just for that you get the lasagna."
"Ooh," Clark said as her captured her hands. "Now she offers me pasta. Miss Lane, I think you're trying to seduce me."
"You do, huh?" she replied, her voice sultry, before she winked and turned toward the freezer.
"Laura, what would you like for supper?" Lois yelled, summoning their daughter in the usual manner. It was no wonder she hadn't developed her super hearing yet, Clark thought. She hadn't needed it. After a moment of silence, Lois turned back to him, a knowing look on her face. ""Would you mind?" she asked, pulling down an invisible set of glasses with her index finger. Clark nodded, x-raying the house and yard and finding nothing. On a whim he looked up into the sky, seeing a decreasing dot in the eastern sky that looked distinctly like two human shapes.
"I think she and Jon, uh…" he said holding up his right arm in a gesture that had long ago become synonymous with flying. Lois's eyes went wide, then narrowed, and Clark could practically see new forms of punishment being developed, probably something that would undoubtedly make even the most rebellious child cringe.
"And she thought she was grounded before," Lois said, her voice sinister. Clark just raised his eyebrows, rocking back on his heels as a small amount of pity began to well up inside of him for his wayward daughter. "Then again, you know what that means," Lois continued, her anger morphing into a sly, calculating expression.
Oh, he knew what that meant, all right. In one fluid movement, he stepped toward her, gathering her up in his arms and kissing her feverishly. "The house is all ours," he said breathlessly as he placed her back on the floor.
"Feel up to having a little appetizer?" she said, bumping him with her hip and capturing his hand in hers. Seductively, she began to slink toward the stairway, tugging him along.
Clark licked his lips in response. "Suddenly I've never been so hungry in my life," he answered, his voice husky. Yes, Clark thought, everything was as it should be. Maybe, sometime in the future, life might get a little hairy again when the inevitable identity crisis came, or when his children fell in love, but he would cross that bridge when he came to it. Until then, though, he would do his best to enjoy these moments of bliss.